The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs resolved in February 2020 to conduct an inquiry into homelessness in Australia, inviting community groups and individuals to include their experiences with homelessness in the continuing Covid-19 crisis.

Positive Life NSW, the only state-wide agency offering support specifically to all people living with HIV (PLHIV) across NSW, have submitted 10 recommendations in a submission to the Inquiry into homelessness in Australia.

The inquiry will “seek to understand the factors that contribute to people becoming homeless, identify opportunities to prevent homelessness, and examine ways to better support the homeless and those at risk”, with aims to “understand how we can better support those who face it, and help some of the most vulnerable in our community.”

The ABC reported in 2020 that in the 2016 census, there were 116,000 homeless people in Australia, which was a 15% increase since 2011 and some states individually were much worse off, with NSW’s homeless rate increasing by 40%.

 Australia’s homeless rate is the third highest of OECD countries, even though we are one of the worlds wealthiest per capita nations and the number of Australians who are homeless has been increasing year on year without exception for the last three decades.

Australian research identifies that 35.3% of Australian PLHIV (2019) report their income source to be a Government benefit/pension/social security and 30.8% report their annual income to be less than $30,000, which puts them at the edge of the poverty line and therefore highly susceptible to homelessness.

The large number of Australian PLHIV on a government pension is very much a legacy issue.
PLHIV diagnosed prior to 1996 (when there was no effective treatment) frequently suffered destruction of their immune system and the opportunistic infections that followed usually lead to death. Those that survived suffered the ongoing impacts of poor health and were forced to stop work and start receiving the Disability Support Pension.

The COVID -19 situation gives the Australian government the unprecedented opportunity to implement a broad range of policy reforms to facilitate greater housing, health and wealth equality amongst its population.

 Some of the recommendations that Positive Life NSW made to the Committee included urgent funding for an affordable social housing building boom including a net increase of 20,000 affordable dwellings, legislature to ensure renting is a viable long-term option with enhanced protections for those who rent, and permanent increaseS to the JobSeeker allowance, the DSP (Disability Support Pension) and the Age Pension which is then to be adjusted bi-annually in line with the wage price index moving forward.

Because of Covid-19, the Committee decided at the end of March to suspend the inquiry, though on May 12 the decision was made to resume, with submissions closing on Jun 12 2020.

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