Wrapping up the 2018 National Homelessness Conference

A wealth of evidence and information on ending homelessness

17 August 2018

Professor Marah Curtis at the National Homelessness Conference 2018
Professor Marah Curtis, International Keynote Speaker (USA)

The 2018 National Homelessness Conference has wrapped up, delivering a wealth of evidence and information on what we in Australia can do to end homelessness.

For two very full days, the over 800 delegates to the Conference explored the underlying drivers of homelessness—not enough affordable housing, low incomes, disadvantage and, for some, deeply personal issues of mental health crisis and addiction—and presented (and challenged) strategies on how best to overcome it.

The spirit of those attending the Conference can perhaps best be described as ‘passionate’. Those presenting, asking questions and listening in the sessions all showed an honest commitment and drive to understanding the truth of what is happening, both locally and internationally. In particular the day to day grim reality of surviving without a permanent home was reinforced by so many speakers, including those with a lived experience of homelessness.

Professor Nicholas Pleace at the National Homelessness Conference 2018
Professor Nicholas Pleace, International Keynote Speaker (UK)

The Conference international keynote speakers opened up the eyes of the audience to situations and solutions in play in other countries with their differing political and social characteristics. In particular the great success of the Housing First model in Finland, a country committed to housing its people, presented by Juha Kaakinen.

‘People living in in shelters and hostels are still homeless. It is a temporary solution. It doesn’t provide privacy and sufficient support. It is an easy solution… it creates a kind of sub-culture of homelessness, a culture of silence’ said Mr Kaakinen.

The insight from Finland was a fascinating juxtaposition to the wavering commitment to the same model in other European countries, as presented by Professor Nicholas Pleace from the UK.

‘The risk around Housing First is you over focus on (the individual), even inadvertently, and you stop paying attention to the structural stuff around housing supply and all the other issues’ according to Professor Pleace

Professor Marah Curtis, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA, explored her research on how unstable and unaffordable housing for poorer families is related to serious social problems such as poor health and educational outcomes; inadequate medical care; hunger; and homelessness, and in particular how this affects the health and functioning of those families.

It was very pleasing to see the level of commitment to alleviating and reducing homelessness in the plenary sessions by delegates from the Australian political arena. In particular the new Lord Mayor of Melbourne Sally Capp firmly stated that the City of Melbourne has said ‘no’ to homelessness being criminalised, and that local city government is ideally placed to being a trusted support that responds to homelessness with compassion.

‘In local government we feel very supported to continue our (homelessness) services because the people of Melbourne are getting behind us. Homelessness doesn’t need to be politicised and certainly it doesn’t need to be criminalised’ said the Lord Mayor.

Juha Kaakinen at the National Homelessness Conference 2018
Juha Kaakinen, International Keynote Speaker (Finland)

In other sessions, Senators Lee Rhiannon (The Greens) and Doug Cameron (ALP) presented their party’s philosophies and strategies for reducing homelessness, while the Martin Foley, the Victorian Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing presented a keynote address highlighting new government research on community attitudes to homelessness and the need to really get the public on side, changing ‘ingrained community attitudes’.

Changing these attitudes is where the plenary session on the media’s response to homelessness really reverberated. Jacob Hickey, Series Producer of ‘Filthy, Rich and Homeless’, suggested that series 1 of that program had been viewed by 2 million people and that 45 per cent of viewers had changed their attitude to homelessness as a result. Tom Elliot, radio presenter from 3AW, suggested that among his listeners there is sympathy for people experiencing homelessness and that as the show covers six to eight topics in each three hour program, he relies a lot on the views and experiences of his talk back callers to shape his program. If the homelessness sector want to influence the community, they have to know what story they are promoting and they have to get involved.

People living in in shelters and hostels are still homeless. It is a temporary solution. It doesn’t provide privacy and sufficient support. It is an easy solution… it creates a kind of sub-culture of homelessness, a culture of silence—Juha Kaakinen

The ten breakout sessions were of particular interest to those working as practitioners in the homelessness sector. These sessions examined in detail strategies such as how to build trauma informed cultures in support organisations, to how the private market can work best responding to homelessness, to understanding the unique challenges and best practice approaches to responding to homelessness amongst Indigenous Australians.

AHURI has been delighted to co-convene the Conference with Homelessness Australia, and congratulates all the speakers, delegates and organisers for their passionate commitment to the event, both over the previous months and the very successful two days in Melbourne.

Videos of the plenary sessions, presentations and a photo gallery are now available, and are well worth a look for all.

National Homelessness Conference 2018 infographic