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New Centrelink officers to help the homeless

Minister for Housing Tanya Plibersek, and Minister for Human Resources Chris Bowen, have appointed 90 new Centrelink staff across Australia, who will work to achieve Kevin Rudd’s goal of halving homelessness in Australia by 2020 reports Robert Morrison in the South Sydney Herald of December 2009.

As part of the Labor Party’s White Paper on Homelessness, the new Community Engagement Officers will work closely with non-government organisations like drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, mental health services, hostels, boarding houses, refuges and drop-in centres.

Daniel Withers, 47, hopes the new CEOs can help the 340 people “sleeping rough” in Sydney every night, particularly in the inner west. “I’ve been in that situation and it is one that I never want to return to … Many people think it’s a choice for these people because it was their own drug addiction or alcohol problems that got them there, but that’s not true,” says Withers. “The new CEOs should help get more of [the homeless] off the streets and into homes or shelters.”  

A recent count by Sydney City Council found that Woolloomooloo had the highest number of “rough sleepers” in Sydney closely followed by Kings Cross. Other areas recording higher than average numbers included Paddington, Glebe, Surry Hills, Ultimo and Redfern. 

“[The] CEOs will help individuals break the cycle of homelessness,” says Ms Plibersek. “Focusing on prevention reduces the number of people who will experience homelessness. Assisting homeless Australians to access the full range of Centrelink services will help them end their homelessness sooner.”

Since taking office, the Labor Government has spent over $7 billion on homelessness. However, many are questioning whether this generous spending is making an inroad into the homelessness problem.

“Kevin Rudd has stated that the number of homeless in Australia is ‘unacceptable’, but his government has, so far failed to deal with the problem,” says Tom Dobson, local Green-Left activist.  

The Homeless Persons Information Centre recently reported a record 67,000 calls to its assistance service for the 2008-09 financial year. That was 13,000 calls more and 24 per cent higher than the year before. Wesley Mission in Sydney has also reported turing away on average 35 people a night and have already housed over 1500 people this year. That is 15 per cent higher than last year.

However, Mr Bowen hopes that the greater accessibility to information through the CEOs will help reduce these numbers. “Centrelink is a key ‘first to know’ agency and is well placed to identify people at risk,” says Mr Bowen. “These officers are trained to work with homeless Australians, who have difficulties accessing information and all available support services they need.”

Source: South Sydney Herald December 2009