When Master of Ceremonies Kay McGrath welcomed attendees to the launch of the Queensland edition of Parity last week, she acknowledged the outstanding work and commitment of all who work in the sector. She also noted the importance of genuine partnership between government and the sector. Uncle Des Sandy welcomed all to Country and his Nephew Derek Sandy from Yerongpan Dance Company played the Didgeridoo.

First published in Melbourne in 1988, Parity shines a light on the work of the homelessness sector across the array of issues they respond to. It is the national publication of the Council to Homeless Persons (CHP). Jenny Smith CHP’s Chief Executive Officer thanked the Department of Housing and Public Works and the many organisations who sponsored this edition of Parity. The Responding to Homelessness in Queensland Edition of Parity covers policy, program and service responses to homelessness in Queensland and boasts multiple contributions from all those involved in the response to homelessness including people who are or who have been homeless.

Homelessness is a significant Queensland issue. It is particularly concerning for children and young people “with over half of Queensland’s homeless being under 25 years” as stated by Minister de Brenni, Minister for Housing and Public works, Minister for Digital Technology and Minister for Sport. “It remains a reality that too many Queenslanders experience homelessness and housing instability in spite of the best efforts of many. Domestic and family violence is a major cause of homelessness for women, children and older women. Far from closing the gap when it comes to homelessness, one third of our homeless population are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. The most vulnerable are turned away from services because their needs are too complex, or they can’t pay rent.” He noted the Palaszczuk government’s desire to work in partnership with all, with a particular emphasis on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to address the physical and spiritual homelessness caused by separation from Country and Kin.

“The latest ABS data released this week shows that homelessness has increased in Queensland by 14% in the 5 years from 2011,” Minister de Brenni said. “This highlights the need for government to work with the sector to achieve real outcomes for people experiencing homelessness.” They intend to do so under the Partnering for Impact initiative.

Mr de Brenni said a key component of the Partnering for Impact initiative was the development of a Queensland homelessness Compact. “The Compact will establish a partnership framework with the sector, where we can move forward together to improve service delivery, to expand the capabilities of the sector, and ensure we deliver person centred housing responses.”

Digital technology innovations were also highlighted at the launch and featured in this Parity edition. Insights and innovation were offered by Kristy Muir, Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for Social Impact who highlighted that in ensuring quality, innovative and responsive services we need a shared purpose and to let go of egos. We also need trust across the sector and within organisations as well as between those paying for the services and those providing them. Shared measurement to measure the impact is also of importance.

She told the story of Brian, a young man who entered state care as a baby of 3 months, who worked as a shoe shiner at the local railway station. He spent his life in and out of homelessness and unstable housing. One winter’s morning Kristy gave him long johns for warmth. He stated it was his birthday and was delighted with his gift, the first he’d ever received. He passed away soon after, aged 58. Any responses by the system were unsustainable. The system failed Brian for 58 years.

I in 200 people in Australia are homeless on any given night and the numbers are growing. Young people are the largest cohort alongside people over the age of 55. “We know the drivers” she stated. “Domestic violence equates to 38% of those seeking homelessness support. Mental health is 13%. Over all, financial stress and housing stress is the primary reason. People don’t have enough money to live.”

We need to address problems along the continuum. 1 million households experience housing stress. Of those most at risk are: children, people experiencing mental ill health and those living with a disability. Living in disadvantaged suburbs is a precursor to housing stress also.

She spoke of social innovation as a novel solution to a social problem, outlined social impact investment and innovation in funding models and ways of working. She also outlined social impact bonds and noted it was essential to be aware of the cost of setting these up in making decisions about the most effective way of financing services. She outlined some simple opportunities such as Telstra providing free data and banks providing no or low interest loans.

Kristy noted the importance of using information we already have and researching national and international options such as the Housing First model in Finland. This example involved the removal of crisis and rough sleeping in favour of investment in stable housing options.

She concluded by stating: “We’ve experienced 2 decades of unprecedented economic growth in this country. We know there isn’t growth in social services. No one is surprised by a 14% increase in homelessness. These figures in a wealthy country are a disgrace.”

Ayesha, a CREATE Foundation young consultant spoke of her experiences of homelessness and the child protection system. She was homeless and in a dangerous situation at the age of 12 with no place to go when fortunately, a youth support worker from school contacted the Department of Child Safety. “As an adult I realised child safety was the best thing that ever happened to me. If that adult hadn’t taken me to the department I don’t know what would have happened. I had super understanding placements in accommodation services… I built my self-esteem and they were always there for me and had patience. Because of them I am the strong Independent woman I am today. It is hard enough being a teenager without wondering where you’re going to live or shower.”  Ayesha noted that youth workers and the CREATE Foundation helped her most and they never gave up.

The launch also featured many words of wisdom from several expert panellists who participated in the 2 panel presentations. Key messages of partnership, innovation, shared purpose and breaking down silos whilst committing to being person centred continued. The need to holistically address poverty was also a stand out message.