4 August 2021
Everybody needs a home: Homelessness Week 2021
By Nathan Kennedy and Andrew Banks
Over 116,000 people in Australia are experiencing homelessness tonight. This reality is due to a variety of reasons but particularly due to the shortfall of affordable and secure housing available. Hall & Wilcox recognises the urgent need to protect and promote the human right for every person to have a home. Part of our purpose is to enable our communities to thrive. It is difficult to thrive without a safe and stable home. We provide significant pro bono legal support for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. We also have commercial expertise that we use to assist with the investment in and development of social and affordable housing.
Some of our pro bono clinics are targeted towards assisting those in the community who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Our lawyers provide much needed legal support to vulnerable members of our community through clinics that take a holistic approach to tackling the issue of homelessness.
Hall & Wilcox participates in the Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s Homeless Persons Legal Service (HPLS) clinics in both Woolloomooloo, Sydney and Raymond Terrace, Newcastle. HPLS provides free legal assistance to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness on a range of areas such as tenancy, housing, credit and debt, victims’ compensation, guardianship, employment, social security, fines, police complaints and consumer matters.
Despite COVID restrictions, we have been able to continue to provide support to people through HPLS, with our Sydney clinic recently moving from the Matthew Talbot Hostel to the Ozanam Learning Centre. This change has allowed us to widen our client group to also include women and people who are transgender and gender non-binary.
Charles Friocourt, Lawyer, said: 'I have been volunteering for the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service clinic for a little over a year and a half now. The clients we see and their legal issues are widespread which provides for very interesting but also challenging work. Overall, I can say that it has been incredibly rewarding to be able to assist the most vulnerable people in our community.'
We are also looking forward to launching our Homeless Law Clinic with Justice Connect in August 2021. The clinic will run out of Launch St Kilda in Melbourne, with staff providing legal information, advice and representation to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with legal issues relating to tenancy, infringements and debts.
Our lawyers will provide ongoing legal support to clients from the Homeless Law Clinic, reducing the constant referral between services that can often limit the chances of a successful outcome occurring for these clients. This is part of the clinics acknowledgement that the issue of homelessness requires systemic change, with the service also offering casework services to ensure all of the client’s needs are met.
Case study: retaliatory eviction
Hall & Wilcox also accepts referrals of clients who are homeless or at risk of homelessness outside of our involvement in clinics. Working behind the scenes, we assisted a vulnerable tenant to resist a retaliatory eviction by her landlord, which was instigated in response to the tenant taking the landlord to the Tribunal to obtain an order for the pervasive mould in the property to be rectified.
In NSW, there is very little protection for tenants who are subjected to retaliatory evictions. The Tribunal has discretion to find that the eviction was retaliatory, but still evict the tenant. Still, we managed to assist the tenant to convince her landlord that proceeding to the full-day hearing was risky for them.
Two days before the hearing, they withdrew their eviction application, and agreed to provide our client with a new 12-month lease with an additional clause that she must be given 90 days’ notice of any further bid to evict her.
Social housing: an investment in affordable homes
Partners Katrina Reye from our Social & Affordable Housing team has been supporting the development of social and affordable housing for many years, including advising on investment in this sector. Hall & Wilcox has acted for state and local government, public and private companies and not-for-profit organisations in this space, and we are committed to helping tackle the affordable housing challenges facing the community. We have worked on a number of major social housing, Build-to-Rent and National Disability Insurance Scheme projects.
A lack of affordable housing is the number one reason for people seeking homelessness support in Australia. ‘Homelessness is a structural economic problem in Australia, not a personal failing. Owning (or even renting) your own home is becoming less achievable in the current economic climate. The role community housing providers play in Australia is so important.’ says Katrina Reye. ‘This year’s Homelessness Week theme reflects the urgent need for social and affordable housing across the nation and highlights the structural changes required to overhaul Australia’s housing system and end homelessness.’
Towards a solution: how to get involved
To launch Homelessness Week this year (1-7 August), Homelessness Australia ran an informative webinar on the current state of homelessness in the nation and what we can do about it. In case you missed it, visit the Homelessness Week webpage and click 'watch webinar'. Hosted by the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas and launched by the Hon Minister Michael Sukkar MP, Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Dr Angela Jackson, Lead Economist, Equity Economics spoke about her report – commissioned by the Everybody’s Home campaign – 'Nowhere to go: the benefits of providing long-term social housing to women who have experienced domestic and family violence'. Jason Clare, Shadow Housing and Homelessness Minister, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, Greens spokesperson on housing and homelessness, joined Angela Jackson for a panel discussion.
Some key facts:
- the largest group of people experiencing homelessness in Australia: mothers and children;
- the fastest-growing group of people experiencing homelessness in Australia: women over the age of 55; and
- one in 10 people who sleep rough in Sydney is a veteran.
For more information about our pro bono legal work and clinics to assist people experiencing homelessness, please get in touch with Nathan Kennedy.
To learn more about the latest developments in the social and affordable housing sector, you can contact Katrina Reye.