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Royal commission hears about inadequacies in government policies and programs that exclude people with a disability who are homeless or at risk of homelessness

green banner that reads Royal Commission Update

31/08/2022

The Royal Commission focused questions on how well current Commonwealth policies reflect the obligations of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) particularly in relation to the right of people with disability to an adequate standard of living, including housing and living conditions. Counsel Assisting questioned the Department of Social Security’s (DSS) representatives why the Australian Disability Strategy (ADS) 2021-2031 is silent on people with disability who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. She noted the Parliamentary Committee - Inquiry into Homelessness in Australia (report released in August 2021) which was meeting at the same time as the development of the ADS recommended Australian governments should work together to establish a ten-year national strategy on homelessness. The Department’s response was that the new strategy is focused on prevention and early intervention to support people to access employment, education, and justice in order to avoid homelessness. Given one third of the population residing in social housing are identified as having a disability, DSS representatives were also questioned on why the current National Housing and Homeless Agreement (which is an agreement between the DSS and all States and Territories with a purpose to improve housing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness) doesn’t have people with disability as one of their priority cohorts. The DSS agreed this was a deficiency and the Agreement should include people with disability who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. One commissioner called this a glaring omission. When questioned whether there is currently any Commonwealth funding earmarked for people with a disability who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, the answer was not through the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. In closing, the DSS representatives were asked if the current Commonwealth Housing Policy was connected to Disability Policy and they confirmed they are not connected. William, a person with lived experience of disability and homelessness, spoke about the issues that resulted in him residing in a boarding house. He said he struggled to find suitable and affordable rental accommodation when he was on a low income doing contract work. The representative from the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) spoke about reasonable adjustment responsibilities of accommodation providers that DJC work with (community housing providers and the state land and housing corporation). They generally insist on an Occupational Therapist’s assessment of an individual’s needs to determine the modification required and if it is to be classified as major or minor. If it is minor, the provider meets the cost. If it is major, the NDIS is sought to fund. The DCJ representative spoke about the process required to seek social housing accommodation. They noted that for 2020-2021 there were 50,000 people on their register awaiting housing. They spoke about people with disability generally meeting the priority waitlist, however, allocation is determined by suitability and geographic location of available stock. The median wait time is two-and-a-half months and the longest time is fifteen years or 180 months. The NSW Housing Strategy 2018-2023 looks at the prevalence and impact of homelessness. Its focus is on people who are vulnerable, which the Royal Commission was told encompasses people with disability. The Strategy does not identify people with disability as a cohort. The only reference is to people with disability who are participants of the NDIS. The Royal Commission took the DCJ representative to recommendations of the NSW Ombudsman’s 2022 report on Public Housing failures in Meeting the Needs of Tenants with Disability, which largely dealt with the manner in which people with disability are treated when engaging with the social housing system. The DCJ was asked on notice to supply data on training and other strategies they use to address the concerns raised. The Royal Commission asked the NDIA representative to walk through the process of how a participant might gain a plan with funds to access housing in a range of circumstances. As part of this, the role of Support Coordinator was examined including the role of a participant in choosing a Support Coordinator, how the agency can confirm they are performing their role, and what happens if they are not performing their role. The Royal Commission sought to clarify whether the NDIA or NSW DCJ was responsible as the last resort for people with disability who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The NDIA said they were not the last resort and would provide reasonable and necessary supports including support to locate crisis accommodation until an alternative was found. Earlier in the day the DCJ representative had said they were not the last resort. Council Assisting started to explore the intersection/overlap between the supports available through the NDIA to participants and those provided to residents at Victorian Supported Residential Services (SRS). There are currently 4000 residents living in SRS and one third are NDIS participants. The NDIA representative confirmed they offer a wide range of daily living supports, including community access and behaviour support. The agency has an alert system that identifies if a participant lives in an SRS. They also ask the participant to share SRS documentation with them at planning meetings. Dave (as pseudonym) spoke about his experiences living in boarding houses for the last 15 years. He said he has learnt the human environment is more important than the physical environment, where you can perhaps make a frendfriend and at least feel safe. On day four and five, the Royal Commission will include witnesses with lived experience of disability, Office of the Public Advocate, a homelessness support provider, Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

For any enquiries, please contact Karen Stace, Director of Policy and Advocacy (Acting), submit enquiry/feedback, 02 9256 3186

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