Massive staff losses to come: federal cuts hit homelessness services

Services that support homeless people will be cut. Photo by Jean-Luc Benazet on Unsplash
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Expected cuts to funding for the community services sector is leaving homelessness organisations in jeopardy. Sinead Hickey reports.

Hundreds of jobs could be lost in the already struggling homelessness services sector, after the federal budget revealed a plan for major pay cuts in the community services and crisis accomodation sectors.

Council to Homeless Persons policy and advocacy officer Damien Patterson said this could have a “deeply concerning” impact for homeless services in Victoria.

“This is hundreds of staff who will be cut from homelessness services. It’s not a huge industry, so hundreds of staff is a great proportion of those working to support people without homes,” he said.

In 2012, the Fair Work Commission made the landmark Equal Remunerations Order, which gradually raised the minimum pay in the social and community services and crisis accommodation classifications by up to 45% over eight years. 

The 2022/23 federal budget failed to renew the funding for these increases, with the result that pay for these employees would return to pre-2012 levels.

The Council to Homeless Persons 2022-2023 Budget Submission revealed that 133 people a day are already being turned away from homelessness services as current demand for services can’t be met.

“We are now at a place where many homelessness services are turning off their voicemail machines because they now don’t have the time to call back everybody,” Mr Patterson said.

Massive staff losses to come: federal cuts hit homelessness services
Damien Patterson. Picture via Zoom

“We need action to address homelessness, from both the state level and federal level, and we think the Federal Government should lead with a National Homelessness address.”

The Council to Homeless Persons’ budget submission also revealed that the number of people accessing homeless services since 2011 has increased by 30,000.

Further pressure is also placed on the services as many of the homeless population are presenting with a wider range of issues, such as mental health, drug abuse and domestic violence.

The Dropping Off The Edge report by Jesuit Social Services (JSS) found that disadvantaged communities are often experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage at the one time, based on the indicators which they use to measure poverty.

The report calls for both state and federal governments to not only address the infrastructure in these communities, but also for more investment in community services so there are workers able to address the multiplicity of disadvantage being experienced.

JSS general manager strategic communications and engagement Andrew Yule said more services were needed to help address the complex nature of homelessness.

Massive staff losses to come: federal cuts hit homelessness services
Andrew Yule. Picture via Zoom.

“Providing housing is one thing that can address homelessness, but the reason people end up homeless need to be addressed as well,” he said.

“Mental health experiences are concurrent with drug and alcohol problems, and we’ve found that people turning up for these services were also experiencing homelessness issues.”