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Funding shake-up leaves out key SA homelessness services

  • 13 May 2021
A state government has an obligation to do what is possible within the limits of state resources to help its people, to make the state an inclusive place where all have access to essential services and housing. South Australia saw this during the glamour years of Premier Don Dunstan when government had the energy and the optimistic determination to make this happen. It seemed possible for all of us, including poor people, to have a fair go. However, over the last few weeks, with the announcement of the funding restructure for homelessness services, this idea of a fair go seems to have dissipated.

Last month, Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink announced the defunding of three well recognised Adelaide institutions: Vinnies Night Shelter, Catherine House for Homeless Women and Hutt St Day Centre. Beginning 1 July, these three places serving homeless people within the Adelaide CBD would each have their funding cut by $1.2 million dollars each. In the case of Catherine House, this amounts to one third of their funding.

From 1978 to 1984, I was a Catholic chaplain to the SA Women’s Rehabilitation Centre, (now the Adelaide Women’s Prison). While post-prison housing was difficult to find for men at the time, it was non-existent for women. For that reason, Catherine House for homeless single women — begun by Sr Anne Gregory and the Sisters of Mercy in 1988 — was a godsend. Now, 33 years later, as the government champions various initiatives to challenge the horrors of domestic violence, this defunding of established service providers like Catherine House seems an astonishing contradiction.

The new funding model for services required existing providers to tender bids to be a part of five new ‘homelessness alliances’. These would cover Adelaide South, Adelaide North, Country South and Country North areas, with a separate alliance dedicated to domestic and family violence. Recognised service providers, including The Hutt St Centre and the St Vincent de Paul Society, both missed out on the tender for the Adelaide South alliance.

Of course, pitting organisations against each other for government funding has long been a practice in the area of Aboriginal affairs. 40 years ago, Kaurna Elder Lewis O’Brien, (now 91 years old) admonished my naïveté: ‘I don’t know why you’re getting so surprised — that’s what governments do. If you or your organisation is successful, then the funding is cut.’ In more recent times this practice of competition for funding seems