“There’s a myth that homelessness is unsolvable, but we know how to end homelessness on Melbourne’s streets,” Hatwani says.
Progress has been made in Port Phillip, which has been a hotspot for homelessness for years. The number of people sleeping on rough sleepers has decreased by 30 percent; from a peak of 94 in September 2019 to 29 in July this year.
“It’s an early-stage result, but it’s still very, very encouraging, and it’s better than most of the other results we’ve had in our programs over the last 20 years or so,” says Mayor Marcus Pearl.
Homelessness Council chief executive Jenny Smith said functional zero was important, but the scheme focused on rough sleepers, who make up only around 5 per cent of the total homeless population.
“People can be excited about dealing with homelessness, but it’s only a small group,” she said. “You’re focusing on a very visible vulnerable group, you have to be careful to keep an eye out for young people, vulnerable women and children, and people who haven’t been homeless for a long time.”
People remain on the named list while they are sleeping, in crisis or in transit.
They are only removed from the list if they have secured long-term housing, moved out of the area or services have not been able to contact them for more than 90 days.
But there are also critics of functional zero.
Guy Johnson, professor of homelessness at RMIT, said it was wrong to assume someone was no longer homeless if they had moved out of the area or were untouchable.
“Chances are they’re still homeless,” Johnson says. “Any conclusions you draw from this data will be wrong. When a community does reach functional zero, it may be interpreted by some that they have effectively ended homelessness. And this, most likely, is far from the case.”
If St Kilda’s Gatwick Hotel closed in 2017, services in the city of Port Phillip worked together to relocate those who lived in the notorious apartment building.
They built on this collaboration when the Port Phillip Zero pilot began that year, meeting every week to find individual accommodation and support for each person on the paimen list. Priority is given to indigenous people and people over 50 years of age.
“The advantage we have now is that the information is available instantly,” says Nicola Miles, Town of Port Phillip Name List Officer.
“We’re all sitting in front of our computers with our customers’ data in front of us, and we can quickly share information about whether we’ve seen them or whether they’ve accessed services.”
The key to Port Phillip Zero’s success is the 15 services working together, not in isolation. But the problem of lack of social housing remains, p 55 thousand families are waiting.
In July 2020, the Victorian Government announced the Homelessness to Hotel programme, which provides $167 million to provide accommodation and support to people who have been placed in hotels during the lockdown.
It is important to note that the measure has moved rough sleepers to a higher priority place on the social housing waiting list.
“Since the peak of the pandemic, housing has become a little more affordable,” says Hatwani, Manager of Functional Zero at Launch Housing.
“Our job was to get as many people on the roll as we could into it.”
This meant that Paul could finally be moved into accommodation and have a support worker provided by Wintringham.
Adelaide and Brisbane are working towards functional zero. In Victoria, Advance to Zero projects are also being rolled out in the local government areas of Dandenong, Stonington and Frankston. Three more councils are considering them.
“Local government is a big supporter of this in Victoria, philanthropy has supported it, the sector has supported it,” says David Pearson, CEO of the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness, an independent organization that supports local communities to end homelessness.
“But while the Victorian Government has led the way in the response to COVID, it is one of the few governments that has never invested in Advance to Zero methodology directly.”
The government says it is funding Launch Housing to run assertive outreach teams helping with the Functional Zero approaches in Frankston and Dandenong, as well as the Housing Support Team in Dandenong.
In addition, the Private Rental Assistance Program Plus provides specialist and targeted support to help people get and keep private rental accommodation.
“The Andrews Labor Government supports innovative solutions and partnerships that aim to end rough sleeping in our local communities,” says the spokesperson.
Paul’s support worker, Lauren Finnegan, visits him twice a week, takes him shopping and on dates. “I’ve never had it before, I find it useful,” he says. “Some days I just can’t be bothered, but if I have an appointment, Lauren will call and make sure I’m ready for it.”
Pavel is happy to have a roof over his head.
“I’m getting older, and being outside doesn’t help much with my age and my health,” he says. “I can’t complain. At least I can go home every night.’
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