The Sydney Morning Herald
24 Feburary, 2012
The City of Sydney is claiming a victory in its efforts to reduce homelessness, recording 25 per cent fewer rough sleepers on city streets in its biannual count this week compared with two years ago.
But the manager of homeless service Missionbeat, Daniel Strickland, said the picture is not that simple as rough sleepers make up only about 15 per cent of the homeless, and the count covers only parts of the CBD and inner city.
"The street counts are not 100 per cent [accurate]," said Mr Strickland, who assisted the council with all eight counts so far.
"It's good to give an idea of how the levels of rough sleepers are going in the City of Sydney. But there are other areas of Sydney. The demand for our services in western Sydney is much higher than it's ever been."
About 170 volunteers helped 32 council and charity staff count rough sleepers in the city and inner suburbs on Tuesday from midnight, recording 310.
This time last year, there were 363, compared with 418 in February 2010.
The council concedes its count, run each six months since August 2008, does not account for every homeless person in Sydney and is impacted by weather and other factors.
People in boarding houses, staying with friends or other forms of non-secure housing are not counted. But it is enough to indicate a general downward trend, said Liz Giles, manager of the City's Homelessness Unit.
Council credits its housing program The Way2Home, jointly funded by the state government, for the reduction.
The program, administered by Neami and St Vincent's Hospital, found permanent homes for 109 homeless people since April 2010.
It is a "housing first" approach, reflecting a shift in philosophy in the sector over how to deal with entrenched homelessness.
A spokeswoman said the figures showed the City had already met the federal government's target for reducing homelessness by 25 per cent by 2013 within its boundaries, but there was still an urgent need for more affordable housing.
Mr Strickland said better co-ordination between agencies, councils and government was having good results.
Mission Australia's Inner City Drift program in the western suburbs and the Camperdown Common Ground project also had an impact, he said.
At Christmas time, Les Hayes moved into a one-bedroom public housing flat in Darlington. He had spent a long period in boarding houses and seven months during the winter of 2010 sleeping rough in Enmore Park when he had no income beyond that which he could raise by cashing in cans or copper wire.
"You feel awful, lonely, like no one cares about you," said Mr Hayes, a former gardener and odd-jobs man.
"You're down in the dumps, getting around in dirty clothes."
He relied on kind strangers for a meal or cup of coffee, and public toilet facilities for washing, before a social worker put him in the Way2Home program. Now he has a home, privacy, and can cook himself something to eat.
"It's good," he said.
Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald