25th May, 2016

Ben Yokitis/www.freeimages.net

Australia's largest providers of services for the homeless have joined in calling on all political parties to commit to halving homelessness by 2025.

Anglicare, Mission Australia, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, UnitingCare Australia and Wesley Mission made the plea in a joint letter to the four party leaders.

In the latter they point out that more than 100,000 Australians - including 44,000 children or young people - are homeless on any given night and each year more than 200,000 people seek assistance from homelessness services.

"It is heartbreaking that, increasingly, we must turn away people desperately needing help. In 2014-15, homelessness services had to turn away over 250 people each day without the support or accommodation they needed," the agency heads wrote. "All our services are stretched and there is a critical shortage of affordable housing that can be found for people in need."

They've also launched a petition to generate public support for the campaign during the federal election campaign and have invited party leaders to a forum on homelessness in June.

The organisations have called for the parties to commit to expanding prevention and early intervention services, including advancing strategies aimed at identifying risk factors and groups such as women and children escaping domestic violence situations, young people leaving care and older people in the private rental market.

Commissioner Floyd Tidd, of the Salvation Army Australia, said the army - which provided support to 57,000 people in 2015 - was "dismayed" at the increasing numbers of women and children experiencing homelessness thanks to family or domestic violence.

"We call on the Australian Government to help us provide adequate support for those at risk of homelessness or already homeless," he said.

Dr John Falzon, CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society's national council, said there is no excuse for a country as wealthy as Australia to accept a situation "where people are systematically denied a place to call home".

"Australia urgently needs political leadership to reduce homelessness, backed up by a comprehensive plan of action that tackles the lack of affordable housing, strengthens the social safety net and services on the frontline, invests in prevention and early intervention, and ensures that everyone has a safe and secure place to call home."

Rev Dr Keith Garner, CEO of the Wesley Mission, said for too long government and non-government providers "have worked in silos", saying there was a need for "targeted, preventative and integrated services".

"Preventing homelessness is more than just providing a meal and a bed. We need more than temporary and episodic solutions but 'whole of life' responses bouyed by a strong political will committed to lasting change."

Follow this link to access the petition.

- DAVID ADAMS