The NSW Department of Housing is planning to build a facility to provide permanent accommodation to around 50 homeless people on Pyrmont Bridge Rd in Camperdown (site pictured on the left). Based on the successful Common Ground model from New York, formerly homeless people will be housed alongside low income key workers in a building where facilities to help them get back on their feet, such as medical clinics, drug and alcohol counseling, employment services and 24 hour security, will be located on site. As well as a large number of highly successful projects in the USA a Common Ground style residence now exists in Adelaide and plans are underway for new developments in Melbourne and Brisbane, as well as here in Sydney. While most organisations that provide homes for the homeless require their clients to undertake drug and alcohol counseling or other such programs prior to being housed, Common Ground has a “housing first” philosophy. Under this approach clients are given a home and then begin such programs as they move in, dramatically increasing the success rate of the programs as clients are not constantly worrying about where to spend each night. Not only does Common Ground provide basic dignity, security and a way forward for the homeless, it also comes with a lower price tag, and is therefore a better use of tax payers money, than less permanent solutions like crisis accommodation.
While there has been some concern amongst local residents about how this development will affect their neighbourhood, I welcome the project and will be working with my fellow Greens to make sure that it achieves the best possible outcomes for the community – both for those to be housed by it and for those who live nearby.
The Greens have already achieved some positive changes in the way the project will proceed. A small area of vacant land will need to be used to allow Common Ground to be built on the site, a fact that has upset many locals as it is one of the only accessible areas of green space nearby. We discussed this matter with Housing Department staff and secured a commitment that if the development goes ahead there will be no net loss of green space, with an under utilised car park nearby being converted to a park in conjunction with the City of Sydney Council. Housing NSW initially planned to erect a wall to divide the park into separate areas for residents of separate buildings but have pledged to remove this from their plan since we highlighted the unacceptable “us and them” dichotomy this would create.
There is still more work to be done however and the Greens are continuing to liaise with Housing NSW to highlight the plight of the public housing residents of the Joanna O’Dea building, adjacent to the Common Ground site. This building, also owned and managed by Housing NSW, is in poor repair and the residents, many of them elderly, have a range of ongoing concerns about security and maintenance. It would be a most inequitable situation for Housing NSW to build a brand new building with advanced security next door while ignoring the needs of the Joanna O’Dea residents and we will thus be making sure that their concerns are met while the building of Common Ground goes ahead.
By listening to residents and by talking with the state Government we are working to make sure that this important project results in the best outcomes possible for those whom it will house as well as those who will be sharing their community with them.