Homelessness has been at the forefront of public policy debate in South Australia since 2002 when the Rann Labor Government was formed and established its social inclusion initiative. Following the election of the Rudd Labor Government in 2007 homelessnes s took a new, national, perspective with the release of a Green and a White Paper on the topic, and the introduction of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH). Other initiatives such as the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA), the National Rental Affordability Scheme and some of the expenditures under the Closing the Gap arrangements targeting Indigenous health, have also addressed homelessness. Along the way we have seen formal targets set for homelessness – at both a national and state scale, as well as uncertainty over the continuation of the funding of some programs. Most recently, the Australian Government has begun a process of re-examining the nature of Australian federalism and has canvassed the transfer of full responsibility for housing and homelessness services to the states and territories (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 2015 p.84 ). At the same time the number of homeless persons in Australia – and South Australia – has increased, while the stock of social housing declined by 21,000 units between 2004 and 2014 (SCRGSP 2015 p. 18 )) with more than 150,000 households remain ing on the housing waiting list. The waiting list for social housing now represents roughly 0.5 households for every social housing dwelling. This yawning gap between the supply and demand of social housing has emerged despite annual public sector expenditures on housing assistance of $10bn across the two tiers of government.
The Australian Government’s interest in the reform of the Australian federation reflects its broader unease with the nation’s social, economic and political trajectory for the 21 st Century. This reflection is accompanied by a more specific concern with the future of Australian housing and homelessness amongst academics, non -government organisations, policy makers and even the Reserve Bank. It is time to take stock of how homelessness finds expression, and also time to reflect upon its broader impacts on society. As a community we need to reconsider how policies and programs can be reshaped to produce better housing outcomes for the most vulnerable within society, and how we can mobilise a wider range of community resources to meet the needs of the homeless. Homelessness is not simply an issue of adequate housing, it intersects with the mental health sector, policing, the regulation of public spaces, the provision of support for young people at risk, the processes associated with leaving institutions and issues of ill- health, disability, the hollowing out of labour markets, Indigeneity, and domestic violence. This paper considers homelessness in contemporary South Australia, and reflects upon the major policy initiatives that have emerged over the past decade and a half. Finally, it examines the prospects for the future and the types of actions – involving governments, the homelessness sector and the broader community – needed to both address immediate needs and bring about fundamental and positive change in the longer term.