26 September 2023

Ombudsman finds homeless slip through cracks

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The NSW Ombudsman has found that the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) did not provide adequate rules, guidance or support to Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) to prevent people from being locked out of the homelessness system.

According to the Ombudsman, SHS are community service providers that receive funding from the NSW Government with each service specialising in assisting different groups such as young people, single women and single men, and women and children escaping family and domestic violence.

Tabling his report Specialist homelessness services: helping people with high or complex needs, the Ombudsman Paul Miller said his review started with a complaint about a homeless minor who was evicted by a number of SHS’s and then pre-emptively banned by others because of her history of violent and challenging behaviour.

“The minor in the complaint case was effectively locked out of the homelessness system,” Mr Miller said.

“Factors that contribute to homelessness include mental illness or disability, substance abuse or challenging behaviour,” he said.

“However, these same factors can lead to people being excluded or evicted from the refuges that are meant to provide the safety net to support them.”

Mr Miller said an underlying problem was that DCJ provided inadequate rules, guidance and support to SHS about when it was, and was not, permissible for a SHS to exclude or evict a homeless person.

He said the providers were required to comply with the Specialist Homelessness Services Program Specifications 2021.

“However, these specifications provide no guidance on allowable exclusions,” the Ombudsman said.

“Similarly, there are no rules or requirements to govern how providers make eviction decisions.”

Mr Miller said SHS providers were imposing conditions of access to their services that could act as barriers for homeless people with high or complex needs.

He said even people who were eligible for a particular SHS could be excluded when the provider imposed additional conditions or, if they were accepted, they could be evicted later if they breached additional rules set by the provider.

The Ombudsman made five recommendations to DCJ aimed at improving access to SHS for homeless people with complex needs.

Mr Miller’s 37-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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