The Jack Brockhoff Foundation Churchill Fellowship to investigate how councils respond to rough sleeping while balancing responsibilities to the wider community

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Everybody's Business - what local government can do to end homelessness

 

While simple geography places local government at the frontline of homelessness response, councils and their workers often do not know what to do. More often than not, they are torn by conflicting responsibilities to their communities, face limited access to funds and lack the mandate to take action.

 

In 2022, I undertook the Jack Brockhoff Churchill Fellowship investigating local government responses to homelessness. My report, Everybody’s Business is based on research and interviews completed in the UK, US, and Canada exploring innovative local government approaches to tackle homelessness.

 

By acknowledging and defining the role that local government can play - not only in crisis response, but in prevention, education and alliance building - Australia can take huge strides to end homelessness.  

 

Importantly, local government is in a unique position, being able to:

  • see the problem close up
  • enable collaboration with diverse partners
  • inform and educate locally
  • respond at appropriate levels and times.

 

Drawn from interviews and follow-up research, the report suggests actions that local government can take and introduces a set of practical guidelines developed to inform and inspire councils to prevent homelessness wherever possible and, where it cannot be prevented, make sure the experience is rare, brief and non-recurring.

 

Recommendations for local government:

 

1.      Make homelessness everyone’s business. Utilise Local Government’s ability to connect across sectors and bring together a community, recognising that not one group or person can solve a complex problem like homelessness. Rather, a collective approach will yield better results. This also recognises that there are diverse views about homelessness, and negotiation may be required to find acceptable ways to work together.

 

2.      Focus on homelessness beyond rough sleeping. While street homelessness is the most visible and vulnerable experience of homelessness and obviously requires action, local government is equipped to respond to a broader experience of homelessness. Extending how homelessness is viewed – focusing also on people who live in cars, couch surf, stay in places of uncertain tenure, including rooming houses and caravan parks, and live in overcrowded conditions - expands the scope of intervention by local government and all its partners.

 

3.      Recognise what you can do to prevent homelessness. Through its structure and close connections to community, Local Government can play a much wider role in homelessness prevention. Don’t just talk about prevention, either. Take time to identify what factors will most likely lead to homelessness in your community and use that to build your knowledge and actions. Identify the customer service points - in your council and in the community - where connection with people at risk of homelessness might take place and do everything you can to link with them before they hit crisis point.

 

4.      Educate and change the narrative. Building understanding and empathy will go a long way. Local Government is in a good position to get the story straight on homelessness, its origins and how it impacts individuals, families and the broader community. Use your close connection to the community to educate people on the causes and impacts of homelessness on individuals and the community at-large.

 

5.      Take your seat at the table. Lobby Commonwealth and State Governments to recognise Local Government’s unique offering in responding to and ending homelessness. Future national and state level homelessness plans should include local government as a key partner. To back this up, funds need to be made available to local councils to coordinate data collection, prevention and collaboration efforts. This will overcome financial barriers and allow Local Government the opportunity to fulfil this important and necessary role.

Fellow

Leanne Mitchell

Leanne Mitchell

VIC
2019

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