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Community Housing Minister calls for ‘positive spin’ on homelessness

Pictured: Dual image of Community Housing Minister Luke Howarth, and a homeless man sleeping. Images: AAP
Minister Luke Howarth, and a homeless man sleeping. Images: AAP

The politician in charge of addressing homelessness in Australia has called for a “positive spin” on the numbers in an interview on Tuesday.

Community Housing minister Luke Howarth said it’s important to put a “positive spin” on the issue, and argued that homelessness affects a tiny percentage of the Australian population.

I want to put a positive spin on it as well and not just say Australia's in a housing crisis when it affects a very, very small percentage of the population," he told the ABC.

Continuing, he said: “99.5 per cent of Australians are homed and living in safe places. There’s half a per cent of the population that isn’t. We want to make sure that that 0.5 per cent are in homes as quickly as possible and we’re doing what we can to go out there and talk to people in the sector and find out how we do it.”

“I want to put a positive spin on it as well and not just say Australia’s in a housing crisis when it affects a very, very small percentage of the population.”

Related story: Is reintroducing inheritance tax the solution to our housing affordability crisis?

While Australia has enjoyed 28 years of economic success, homelessness increased by 14 per cent between 2011 and 2018 alone.

That means that for every 10,000 people, 50 are homeless.

And according to Professor Hal Pawson from the University of New South Wales City Futures Research Centre, on any given night there are at least 8,000 people sleeping rough in Australia.

Queried about these figures, Howarth said this rate of growth isn’t out of step with population growth.

“The population from the last census to the previous one increased by almost 20 per cent and when you look at what we’re seeing… there is about 116,000 homeless people out of 25 million.”

But according to official census data, Australia’s population actually only increased by 8.8 per cent between 2011 and 2016.

Related story: Australia’s most unaffordable city for renters named

Howarth said the government will be focusing on emergency housing over affordable housing, and getting people off the street.

"There are a number of areas and I'll be focusing on all of them, but I think people on the street is important because that's what Australians see if they're in a capital city," he said.

"They can see people on the street - they want something done about that.”

“What I'm hearing from people that are on the ground is that emergency accommodation is a really important issue and we need more emergency accommodation.”

Homelessness comments slammed as ‘out of touch’

Howarth’s comments have been derided both on social media and on the other side of politics.

Shadow Minister for Homelessness Jason Clare told Sky News there are more homeless people than ever before.

“Rather than using rhetoric like saying 'let's put a positive spin on homelessness', let's do something real about it."

Related story: The welfare program leading single parents into poverty

And on Twitter, Howarth’s comments have been blasted as out of touch.

“Luke Howarth seems to be saying that there are more homeless but less as a percentage of overall population. So not to worry,” one user said.

“Everyone is entitled to a safe place to shelter and sleep. Any percentage over zero is too much.”

Others suggested political leaders live on the streets before making judgments on how big a problem it is.

“Luke Howarth is responsible for addressing the crisis levels of homelessness nationally,” another Twitter user said.

“What a disrespect to all those people with no housing certainty for him to not even be on top of the key data in his portfolio, nor be able to speak to evidence based solutions. Disgraceful.”

The federal government will be forced to address social housing in Tasmania as part of an agreement with independent Senator Jacqui Lambie. The Morrison government said it would wipe social housing debt in Tasmania in exchange for Lambie’s vote of support for its $158 billion tax cut package.

Federal Housing Minister Michael Sukkar said the Coalition wanted to help Tasmania immediately tackle homelessness, a growing problem for the Apple Isle.

The spotlight has been on homelessness in Australia since tent cities began appearing in the Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart city centres in recent years.

And in June, Melbourne woman Courtney Herron became the face of the homelessness crisis after she was found dead following a brutal attack, allegedly by a man with no fixed address.

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