More than 50 homeless organisations have made an unprecedented united plea to the social services minister, Scott Morrison, not to end funding for the sector, as state governments expressed dismay at the prospect of vulnerable homeless people being cut adrift.
In an open letter to Morrison, chief executives of organisations including Homelessness Australia, the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society called for the federal government not to walk away from funding homelessness services.
The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, a funding agreement between the states and territories and the federal government, is set to expire on 30 June, with no assurance from Canberra that the arrangement will continue.
Homelessness agencies have warned that dozens of programs will be axed if the $115m in federal funding ceases, potentially putting the lives of rough sleepers and women fleeing domestic violence at risk. More than 80,000 homeless people and 3,000 staff will be affected if the funding is cut, according to Homelessness Australia.
The letter to Morrison warns that the lack of certainty over funding is leaving homelessness services “hamstrung.”
“You do your budget planning on a four-yearly cycle, please let us do the same,” the letter states. “Please commit to a four-year National Homelessness Partnership Agreement and give homelessness services the certainty we need to deliver housing and support to vulnerable people.”
State governments, which match the homeless funding provided by the federal government, have also expressed frustration at the lack of commonwealth commitment to the homeless.
The governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia all say they have written to Morrison asking for clarity on the funding, but received no response.
NSW receives $30m a year under the agreement, Victoria gets $22.8m and South Australia receives $8.9m. The agreement was initially struck in 2008 and was extended by a single year in 2014.
Daniel Andrews, the Victorian premier, said: “I know Tony Abbott is worried about himself at the moment, but he should be more worried about the people who need these funds to live safely and securely.”
Zoe Bettison, South Australia’s social housing minister, said: “It’s disappointing that our requests for the federal government to honour the National Partnership on Homelessness appear to be falling on deaf ears.”
Glenda Stevens, chief executive of Homelessness Australia, said the uncertainty meant service providers were being forced to consider turning away homeless people who need long-term help.
“We need certainty so we can plan for staff and long-term support for homeless people,” he said. “We could end up with people sleeping rough not getting housed and people dying young. We’d have grave doubts about the continuity of services if this funding ends.
“We are disappointed that we have to go through this. It would be wonderful if we could just get on with the job of supporting those who need us.”
Heather Holst, chief executive of Melbourne homeless support agency Homeground, said four of its key programs were at risk from the funding impasse.
Homeground helps vulnerable rough sleepers find housing, as well as supports people in social housing and those at risk from family violence.
Holst said the rough sleepers and families at risk programs would have to be scrapped entirely, with more than 700 homeless people denied support.
“People will be left sleeping rough on the street and while there are meals programs and people giving out blankets, the only thing that does it is someone working with you to get you the house you need,” she said. “That wouldn’t be available anymore. People will die, they will actually die because of that, and I’m not given to hysterical comments.
“If we have a reduction in funding we’ll see people going back into rooming houses with all the danger. I wouldn’t want to be a single woman in a rooming house, let alone one with children, bathing them in communal sinks. It’s Dickensian.”
Despite the pleas of homeless services and state governments, however, it appears at the federal government will wait until the May budget before deciding whether the sector will receive further funding.
Morrison said: “I appreciate that the sector is interested in an early announcement about funding beyond 30 June 2015.
“Future arrangements for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness will be considered in the context of the 2015-16 budget, while longer-term arrangements for housing assistance and homelessness services will be considered in the context of the white paper on reform of the federation the government has commissioned.”
Jan McLucas, Labor’s spokeswoman on housing and homelessness, said if the government was to end the funding “it must end the uncertainty immediately and outline its plans to reduce homelessness in our country.”