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REDWatch likely to oppose Waterloo Master Plan over Human Services

This is a series of items taken from the REDWatch Email Update on 3 February 2020. The linked items deal with REDWatch concerns that with the LAHC's master plan being finalised that the promised Human Services Plan has not be developed with the community to sit alongside the built form master plan. Here you can read of REDWatch's experience in trying to get a Human Services Plan for Waterloo public housing tenants and the reason why REDWatch will likely oppose the Waterloo Master Plan when it finally goes on exhibition.

REDWatch likely to oppose Waterloo Master Plan

As part of the Waterloo State Significant Precinct redevelopment, REDWatch and local agencies pushed for a Human Services Plan to go alongside the built environment master plan. In 2017 FACS / LAHC agreed such a plan would be undertaken.

In the email to the FACS Executive requesting the plan, the bulk of which you can see at REDWatch Request to FACS for Human Services Plan, REDWatch said “For REDWatch … time is of the essence as we could not support a master plan for Waterloo without a comprehensive human services plan accompanying it.”

As the Department of Planning and LAHC negotiate an MOU process and the master plan parameters, LAHC no longer wants to discuss a human services plan. The aim seems to be to negotiate the new arrangements and then submit as quickly as possible. The last 12 months that LAHC set aside for the human services discussion has passed. What REDWatch feared looks set to happen. LAHC will put up a Master Plan without a human services plan to sit alongside it.

REDWatch is not looking for another human services plan add to our long list of Human Services in Redfern and Waterloo: A potted history listing of plans, interventions, activities, consultations and reports. We have made it clear to LAHC and FACS that a successful plan has to understand why these previous plans have not delivered for our community.

REDWatch has argued extensively, as can be seen in the Waterloo Human Service Plan part of our website that a human service plan needs to address the existing human services challenges facing tenants and agencies, and not just the service issues around the development relocation and post redevelopment. Fixing the buildings does not address the challenges faced by those living in buildings made up of people with increasingly complex issues with little support.

Yes, this is an issue across the state, but it will affect Waterloo disproportionally due to the size of the estate and because the same number of public tenants will be living with their existing problems in a redevelopment with three times greater density than exists in the area at the moment.

Irrespective of how good the master plan might be, if the issues facing the people who live there now and into the future are not addressed in the Human Services Plan that LAHC promised then it is looking like REDWatch will likely have to campaign against the Master Plan.

Counterpoint release Draft Waterloo Impact Project Report

The Waterloo Impact Project explored local perceptions to establish what views existed around the local client referral system and coordination between agencies, both government and non-government, and the needs for any improvement. George Barrett did a large number of interviews with service users, and both government and non-government services. The draft report from the project is available for further input. Download the report - DRAFT - Waterloo Impact Project Mapping Local Client Referrals and Agency Services Coordination

Broadly, the recommendations entail:

  1. Addressing accessibility deficits by extending and improving services to CALD, Aboriginal and other cohorts of the community,
  2. Improving the capabilities of residents to use technologies and funding more place based outreach services to local community centres,
  3. Improving service delivery and referral protocols, and
  4. Addressing cultural and structural issues within agencies; both government and nongovernment.

The next agency workshop to discuss the report is proposed for 24th February 2020 10:30 am at Inner Sydney Voice. Please save the date for now. If you would like to be involved or have any questions please contact Adam Antonelli on 9698 9569 or email Counterpoint on info@counterpointcs.org.au.

Over the last couple of years, NGOs have undertaken a number of data collection exercises to provide input into improving human services. This is the latest, but previous ones appear to be falling on deaf ears.

Community Facilities – still no discussions

In the August 2018 Masterplan brochure LAHC said that LAHC’s focus for 2019 was to be developing a Community Facilities Plan and a Human Services Plan. There has been no movement on either of these crucial elements, and certainly the consultations promised to services and tenants on these topics have not eventuated.

There have certainly been delays to the Master Plan because LAHC did not get its proposal lodged in early 2019 and hence ran into the “state election caretaker period”, the City of Sydney alternative proposal, the machinery of government changes, staffing changes at the top of LAHC and then the handing of planning powers back to the City.

While LAHC was unable to progress the Masterplan it could have had the other crucial consultations that were promised. It did not and there are no indications that LAHC plans to consult on these matters prior to the master plan exhibition. This has all the marks of acknowledging these are crucial issues but then ignoring the issues to push ahead with the development.

Conversations on both topics would have been assisted by public access to studies LAHC has undertaken, but they have not been shared with the community. The first of these is the Social Sustainability Study, which was not in the Metro Quarter study requirements and hence no one has any idea of what might be in this document until the master plan is exhibited. The second report supposedly addresses consultant GHD’s greatly deficient Final Social Baseline Report for Waterloo and looks at what is needed into the future.

Both these reports should have been available as part of the proposed consultations with the community. They were not released because while the Department of Planning told REDWatch that LAHC could release these reports, LAHC were being told by the Department that it did not want the reports released because they might create confusion when it came to the formal exhibition. As we have pointed out to LAHC the solution was very simple – change the report name or do an extract and call it something else so there would not be confusion between two documents of the same name!

The effect of the non-release has been to deny the community important information about key issues of that concern it. This does not excuse LAHC however from having the conversations with the community that it promised. It could have done that without either report. The community should have been involved in key conversations about their community and its future and they have not been.

We do not know what position Council might take as the new consent authority. Even if Council was happy for LAHC to release these studies early, ultimately the decision is up to LAHC. Based on practice to date we expect LAHC will push ahead to get the master plan exhibited ASAP and try to kick the crucial community facilities and human service plans down the road until the master plan is finalised and awkward questions cannot stand in its way.

Adding salt into the Community Facilities wound, is speculation about LAHC’s deal to get the PCYC out of the Redfern site to maximise that development. At the Redfern consultation, people were told PCYC needed a larger facility and that it would be “within walking distance”. This is widely believed to means that LAHC is already committed to bring an expanded PCYC into the Waterloo redevelopment in closer competition with existing services at NCIE and potentially replacing social services with a greater sport and recreation approach.

LAHC has to consult with the community and services in the area about the future of community facilities and service. Everyone needs to be assured that the redevelopment will bring a robust social services plan and the necessary facilities needed to support that plan.

LAHC – FACS / DCJ breakup and restructure impacts on Waterloo Human Services

REDWatch has been pushing for improvements in the co-ordination of human services in Redfern Waterloo for over 15 years and it looked like with the Waterloo redevelopment there might have been some progress. We were assured by the then head of LAHC, who was also a Deputy Secretary in FACS, that there would be a human service plan to sit alongside the Waterloo master plan.

At that time, LAHC was a part of FACS and we were assured that the proposal had the support of the FACS executive. While we had initially approached FACS it had shown little interest in the problem and so another part of FACS taking up the issue seemed to cover off the bases, especially as we were told it was supported at the highest levels within the department.

Since then LAHC has been moved out of FACS into the Department of Planning and effectively downgraded – the head of LAHC is no longer a Deputy Secretary. On top of this, both the person who made the undertakings, as well as the person delegated to develop the Human Services plan have both moved on following the LAHC restructure. In the process, the commitment to a Human Services Plan for Waterloo seems to have been lost.

LAHC was split out from FACS between 2011 and 2013 and then reunited. This happened during the last bout of master planning for Redfern and Waterloo. The experience and the buck-passing was something we feared would be repeated when last year the decision was made to move LAHC to the Department of Planning. On raising these issues with the then head of LAHC, we were assured that everyone had learnt the mistakes made last time and that Memorandums of Understanding were being entered into between Ministers and Departmental Secretaries to make sure those problems were not repeated. Six months on history is starting to repeat.

Previously everything came out of the same budget bucket, now there needs to be clear delineation between what LAHC is and what Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ – previously FACS) is. Around human services discussions and aspects of the Waterloo redevelopment, the lines between what was FACS and what was LAHC were quite blurred. LAHC positions, for example, partly filled the hole left when FACS ended the Housing Communities Program community development program in Waterloo. Lines are now being more finely drawn between what is redevelopment related what is something that DCJ should fund itself or do as part of its arrangements with LAHC. The community is struggling to hold in place some of the earlier arrangements.

The challenge of improving human services for public housing tenants and addressing systemic problems in the service system are particularly vulnerable in this split because no one sees human services for tenants as being their responsibility unless it fits into the tightly targeted early intervention policy or other very specific programs.

For public housing many of the problems are systemic across the state rather than related just to Waterloo, even though with the re-development of Waterloo they will become more acute. Within LAHC the work to date on the promised Human Service Plan has been done outside the team responsible for the redevelopments. While we were promised that we would be involved in this work, we have seen nothing of substance for almost two years. A high level overview to the Waterloo Redevelopment Group told people little and LAHC refused to release the presentation.

One bit that was useful were regular meetings set up with FACS to look at what could be some small changes that might make a big difference. This was set up by LAHC with the FACS District Director. Many of the issues we raised were considered by the FACS District Director as things she wanted to see as “business as usual” across the region and we agreed to model changes in Waterloo and then scale them up across the district. Meetings were set up quarterly with the District Director and key FACS and LAHC staff with monthly meetings with the FACS Housing Director, the relevant Manager of Operational Services and the Waterloo Team leader. This has given us a good insight into what roles FACS Housing plays and does not play.

As time went on and FACS personnel changed, we increasingly got the message that some people did not know why they were involved or what the meetings were supposed to achieve. These meetings are now in danger as DCJ District has asked the new LAHC management why they are doing this. LAHC have responded that nothing needs to happen until the future of the master plan is finalised.

As you can imagine, REDWatch and the Groundswell agencies involved in these discussions are very concerned, especially as we have been unable to meet with the new senior LAHC management now calling these shots.

One of our initial focuses with FACS / DCJ was around what happens during Client Service Visits that might help connect tenants with any services they might need. These visits are when FACS Housing visit tenants, check on their unit, and are in a position to have a discussion with them. The meeting that is supposed to happen from 6-12 weeks after a new tenant moves in is particularly important.

From our conversations and briefings, we have learnt that FACS Housing staff are not trained to do even basic human service assessments and that asking questions about any services a person might be having difficulty accessing is not in the state-wide mandated app nor measured in their KPIs. FACS is mandated to look out for any child protection issues, a question about NDIS coverage is asked, and hording and squalor are obvious during inspections as they are a risk to the property.

It appears as if LAHC’s agreement with FACS Housing to manage its tenancies does not include any human service function during a Client Services Visits. REDWatch has previously pointed out that public housing Client Service Visits in the ACT have four very specific human service support questions that are asked during a visit. We have asked both DCJ District and LAHC why these are not a part of the role LAHC asks DCJ Housing to undertake.

Putting human service aspects into Client Service Visits seems to us to be a key element in improving human service access for tenants. Other important elements include, a welcoming  attitude in the local FACS office and access to staff there who can help people connect to the services they need.

The only way human service questions would be possible at client service visits at the moment would be if someone who was appropriately trained attended with client service officers when they make their visits. While the client service officer goes through the check list the other person could be asking how the tenant was going, if they are having problem locating services etc. The problem of course is that someone has to pay for that and if it is not mandated then it is not likely to happen. This is especially so when the new departments are cutting back on expenditure to deliver the promised savings from the mega amalgamations.

The separation of LAHC and FACS is highlighting some important systemic issues. The separation means assumptions about who is supposed to do what are being challenged. With the separation maybe it is the right time to think about a NSW upper house inquiry into how human service supports for public housing tenants work or do not work.

There has been a lot of work recently getting homeless people into public housing. However, if the supports are not there for those we put in public housing, are we really addressing the problem? We cannot assume that just putting a roof over someone’s head addresses his or her problems.

2020 is shaping up to be another challenging year for Redfern and Waterloo.