Services for rough sleepers overhauled

By David Schout

Grassroots homeless charities are to be linked with established housing services under a new City of Melbourne initiative to ensure well-intentioned goodwill is better harnessed in the city.

As the city looks to combat an increase in people experiencing homelessness, a number of “pop-up” volunteer services have been founded in recent years.

These mobile or “drop-in” services provide short-term relief including meals, clothing, bedding, haircuts and showers to rough sleepers.

As unregistered homelessness entities, the groups rely predominantly on the goodwill of concerned citizens who simply want to help.

However these services can, according to the council, unwittingly cause more harm than good.

Impacts include increasing amounts of abandoned goods in the city and the entrenchment of homelessness by providing only short-term relief.

“Delivery of goods and services on the street, if done in isolation from housing and other suitable services, means that the crucial, long-term support needed to exit homelessness is not linked up,” a council report stated.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said it was vital the pathways out of homelessness were made a priority.

“When we have these services or goods being provided without linking them up with the organisations that can really make the long-term difference, we’re absolutely missing the opportunity to create that impact,” she said.

“In some ways it could be said it’s entrenching the rough sleeping because it’s enabling and facilitating people to be out on our streets for longer. I’m not saying that’s intended but unfortunately that’s one of the consequences. So by connecting the organisations we really feel it can make a difference.”

The new guidelines ensure grassroots operators are better educated on best practice and will facilitate partnerships with established homelessness services.

“We really acknowledge and we’re so grateful as a community to the efforts of individuals and small groups who want to help and make a difference on what is a very complex issue,” Cr Capp said.

“We’re absolutely dedicated to making sure that the giving and services provided can be effective, responsible and co-ordinated – that’s what is at the heart of this initiative.”

Cr Nic Frances Gilley, someone who has worked in the homelessness space for many years, said the new initiative would be crucial.

Working for a burgeoning UK charity early in his career, Cr Frances Gilley said such guidance would have been invaluable.

“We made lots of mistakes and I think partly because a lot of that good-meaning was misguided and we ended up perpetuating the problem in the early days,” he said.

“Being able to direct that and get great value from it is going to be really important.”

In other news, the council has announced that an initial batch of 160 storage lockers for those experiencing homelessness will be handed over to the Salvation Army on April 2. 

The free lockers will allow those who are usually forced to carry their belongings a secure location in which to leave their possessions. 

The initiative was a pre-election promise by Cr Capp, who wanted to introduce “common sense” moves to ease the stress on those forced to sleep rough.

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