PRIVATE MEMBER'S STATEMENT - Maitland Electorate Homelessness

Ms JENNY AITCHISON (Maitland) (19:45): I plead with the Government to make more social and community housing properties available to address the epidemic of homelessness in Maitland. The wait for community and social housing in Maitland is well in excess of a decade. At the opening of some community housing in Thornton last year, the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services and I met a woman who had waited for over 19 years—nearly two decades—for a home. This woman shared with us the impact on her children, her family life and her professional life of being forced to live on the road for that time. But this is just one woman. Tonight I will talk about the severe impact that homelessness is having on other people in our community who suffer the comorbidities of complex trauma, mental and physical ill health and the lack of a support network.

Just two weeks ago, a man came to my office in desperation. He arrived in Maitland late last year seeking a fresh start after a history of child sexual assault and violent family relationships. He was under the incorrect impression that the local community housing provider had a property waiting for him. In fact he was just on the priority waiting list. There were another 30 people in Maitland on that list and another 732 people who are potentially waiting up to 10 years—or 19, in reality—for public housing in Maitland. This man's mental health issues include depression, complex trauma, borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia. Unmedicated, he is a danger to himself and others. Medicated, he is heavily sedated, vulnerable and an easy target for robberies and further violence.

He received temporary accommodation in a motel for 60 days, but when this expired he ended up in a boarding house. In the boarding house he experienced a distressing incident when he was woken up in the early hours of the morning by people banging on his door, seeking a previous tenant who apparently owed them a drug debt. This was a powerful trigger for him, given his history of violence and abuse, so he fled in fear in the middle of the night. Since then he has quite understandably refused to live in any form of group accommodation, preferring instead to sleep outdoors under bridges or behind shops. Even the former Minister for Family and Community Services, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, previously indicated that one of the boarding houses that this man had been referred to never should be included in the list of temporary accommodation providers that were to be used for people in vulnerable situations. What has happened?

After weeks of living rough on the streets, this man came back to my office. He threatened to take his own life or perform an illegal act so that he could be sent to gaol, to access shelter and a decent meal and get back on his medications. My staff convinced him to seek treatment for his mental and physical complaints at the Maitland Hospital. He was turned away after walking there on a 40-degree day, with hives, sweating profusely, complaining of internal injuries that created incontinence issues for him and just in a terrible state. This man then attended my office again in person after walking back.

I rang Hunter New England Health and arrangements were made for him to be seen on re‑presentation to Maitland Hospital. When he was told there that he would have to go to the psychiatric unit where he had been earlier, he was so scared that he told staff if they took him down there he would bash them. So a man who has reported suicidal thoughts and threatened violence against others was released back into the community, but with no access to private accommodation that would keep him, and perhaps other people in the community, safe. Minister Ward's office transferred my inquiries to the Department of Housing, which advised that Link2home would extend his temporary accommodation at the discretion of the local community housing provider. We were advised that neither Housing NSW nor the Minister could direct Hume to provide out‑of‑guidelines extensions or take any other expedited action. What a disgrace!

This man spent nearly two solid days sitting in my electorate office while we called agency after agency. Throughout that time we found he failed to turn up to appointments, left abusive messages and refused offers of shared accommodation. I am not saying that he was not a difficult person to help. I accept that, for the safety of workers in our community services and our public health system, we have limited options for this man. But have we got no options? How did it get to this—being covered in hives and bites, crying, begging for a roof over your head, a shower, a place to wash your clothes or yourself, to have a meal, a safe place where you can lock the door and take your medication and not be assaulted? This should not be too much to ask. This is a gross simplification of the man's complex needs but I urge the Government to realise this: Its system is broken. People like this man need help. Please act now.