Sunday, 21 December 2008

The $5 billion difference

Sorry about the length of this rant, but this is a very high horse.

Here are two stories in two different papers about the announcement of a government policy on homelessness today:

The Telegraph:

THE Federal Government will spend $1.2 billion over four years to halve the number of homeless people in Australia.

The SMH:

THE Rudd Government will today unveil its white paper on homelessness, committing $6.1 billion to the first five years of its biggest social reform program.

Hmmm. As far as I can work out, these stories are about the same announcement by the same Prime Minister (unless we have two PM's, which is entirely possible. Maybe Gillard announced a different policy?)

One of these newspapers can't do its sums. Which one is it? Is it Kerry-Anne Walsh at the SMH?

I thought there might be a press release on the Prime Target's website, but as of 9am this morning, no such animal exists. If there is no press release, how did the media get this story?

There is nothing in The Australian, but Adelaide Now is reporting the number as $1.2 billion.

Let me disect this accouncement for you.

We start by revisiting the first paragraph:

THE Rudd Government will today unveil its white paper on homelessness, committing $6.1 billion to the first five years of its biggest social reform program.

Its biggest social reform program? The government has a social reform program? Anyone care to tell us what it is? And how is this the biggest? Do we have proof of that? Or is this just a line spun by a spin doctor in Canberra.

As a start, $800 million will be pumped into new support services for the homeless over the next four years and $400 million for social housing for the homeless over two years.

"New support services" - sounds like a whole new layer is going to be added to the existing bureaucracy. "Support services" sounds like a TV awareness campaign and the printing of a stack of pamphlets.

As for social housing, what does that mean? Why do journalists write stuff like this and never explain what they are on about? It might mean something to a Canberra insider, but it means nothing to those of us that live outside the orbit of the bureaucracy. Less public-service speak please, and more plain English.

a new Council on Homelessness will be appointed, and states will be forced to report progress on targets to the Commonwealth

Great, another quongo is being setup. Worse than that, Rudd is going the way of the British with target setting and reporting. Blair and Brown went mad over setting targets for every government agency, and all this has created is massive dysfunction in their public services. Councils meet targets set by central government for child protection, but kids still die under their watch. Effective policing has gone out the window thanks to stupid and meaningless targets. The ambulance services strive to meet targets that have nothing to do with effective care of their patients.

Mr Rudd considers the 12-year plan a "once in a generation opportunity".

What a stupid thing to say. We have many, many opportunities in this generation to do this kind of thing. Whoever wrote that line should be tarred and feathered and run out of town. Furthermore, the richer this generation gets, the more money we'll have to spend on this problem.

His Government will introduce legislation to anchor the plan in a guarantee that "people who are homeless are treated with dignity and respect, and receive quality services".

"His government?" I thought it was our government. Ah well, that's what happens when someone with a swollen head gets the top job.

I love the bit about legislating a guarantee into this. That's like trying to legislate a guarantee that "everyone will be entitled to 50 hours of quality sunshine per month".

As for being treated "dignity and respect", how much dignity and respect to you accord the brain-fried alcoholic who is too far gone to remember to wear shoes, who has not bathed in weeks and who has clearly done a poo in their pants? Do you think someone who is waddling down the street (because of the volume of crap in their undies) and barking at trees feels a great deal of dignity? Have they shown their own brain any respect by drowning it in metho and cheap port?

Spare me.

Every night in Australia, 105,000 people are homeless. About 16,000 of those sleep rough on the streets. The number of homeless children under the age of 12 recorded on census night in 2006 was 12,133, an increase of 22 per cent on the 2001 figure. Twelve to 18-year-olds numbered about 22,000.

When I am told that 105,000 people are homeless, then the first thing I want to know is how you define "homeless". We visited my sister a few months ago, and she had a bloke camping on her couch. He had quit his job in Byron Bay and was on his way to a hippy feral festival down south somewhere. He needed a place to doss on the way, so he fetched up with my sister (don't ask). I think they were on their way to the Dreaming festival (I have probably gotten that wrong). His intention was to go to the festival, get covered in mud, not shower for a few days, eat mung beans and then return to Canberra (ha ha ha ha) and get a job and find a place to live.

Technically, I guess you could call him homeless during that period. He had no official fixed address.

But he was as happy and content as a pig in a wallow, and he was doing what he wanted to do. He was homeless by choice, by concious act. And it worked for him, and I can attest that my sister has couches that are good for sleeping on (I crashed on one last time we were there).

And you know what? I have done the same thing myself, crashing at friend's places in between jobs and finding a place to live etc (back when I was young).

So spare me the estimate of 105,000 until you define what homeless actually is, and investigate the circumstances behind that homelessness. Bureaucrats are just brilliant at throwing big numbers around to justify certain policies, and they are also brilliant at ensuring that you never get to see the underlying numbers, assumptions or definitions. Because we, the great unwashed taxpaying public, are not allowed to question their motives or policies.

If we do have 105,000 homeless, just where are they staying? That number is over double the number of people living in Wagga Wagga (48,000). Wagga is a big town, with lots of buildings. Where exactly are these 105,000 indigent souls?

Staying with friends?

Staying with relatives?

Staying in a hotel?

Hell, our family was almost homeless two years ago. There was a looming gap between when our lease was up and we had to be out of our old place and when we could move into the new one. We were faced with having to spend a week living in a hotel with our stuff in storage. I guess that would make us homeless.

So whenever you see a feel-good statement like this piece of crap from the PM, always question the numbers.

Then we have 16,000 sleeping rough on the streets.

16,000 is a lot of people.

Sydney contains around 21% of Australia's population, so assuming these people are evenly spread across the country, over 3,300 of them are dossing down in Sydney.

3,300 is a lot of people. A lot of people. You'd think that if we had that many sleeping rough in our parks and out the front of shops and under bridges, we'd notice it. Having spent a lot of nights working late in the CBD, or roaming around the back streets of Kings Cross, I have seen a fair number of homeless people sleeping rough. I've seen the queues at the soup trucks at Martin Place. I've had to step over them in the morning to get to the door of my office. I know they exist - I've smelled them.

But 3,300 in Sydney? Get of the grass. If you divide that number by 10, I might believe you.

Then we have the number of homeless kiddies.

Apparently 22,000 kids aged 12-18 are homeless.

Again, I say "pah!".

A study was made of homeless kids in Perth some years ago. It was not a very popular study, because it discovered the following:

  • there were more agencies and charities setup to deal with homeless kids than there were homeless kids. That is, charities were fighting each other in order to get their hands on a client, because for each kid, there was more than one charity or agency.
  • the great, great majority of kids were "homeless" for one night only. Generally Friday or Saturday night, when they went out and partied with their friends, and broke their parental curfew or whatever. For others, they'd had a fight with Mum and/or Dad, and left home. When most teenagers run away, their flight is shortlived. Yes, some split for good and never come back, leading to lots of heartache, but most don't. They have a spat or a hissy fit, then come to their senses, and go home.

Domestic violence and family breakdown are by far the most common cause of homelessness.

I can believe that, but people converting to travelling hippies might be number two on the list.

But here is my question - how long are people homeless, and is a short period of homelessness a problem that really requires billions of dollars of our money to be thrown at it?

People are resourceful. They can generally work things out on their own. Let's say Wayne and Sharon have a fight, and Sharon takes the kids and leaves. Her mum lives in Melbourne, so it will take Sharon at least a day to get there. Sharon decides to drive, but halfway there, she gets tired, so she pulls over for a sleep in a truckstop outside Tarcutta.

Shock! Horror! Sharon is homeless and needs our help! Someone give Sharon a welfare program! Sharon has two kids under the age of 12, and they need a roof over their heads!

Some people are chronically homeless, and others are not - their problem is transient, short lived and they can sort it out themselves. Thinking about it, when travelling around Europe, I slept on trains for over 20 nights. That included one night sleeping in the corridor of a TGV, because we couldn't get seats, and another night sleeping on very uncomfortable seats at a train station.

Technically, I was homeless. But did I have a problem? No.

I have seen fruit pickers who live out of the back of their van during the picking season. Hell, we went for a paddle this morning with a cousin, and him and his wife to be have been living out of their Kombi for months. Junior's dad has just bought a van of some sort, and is planning on living out of that next year. Are all these people homeless? Yes. Would they have been counted as homeless by the census? Absolutely. Do they need a $6 billion welfare program to help them?

Absolutely not.

The new National Affordable Housing Agreement will come into effect next month. It commits $6.1 billion to social housing, help in the private rental market, support and housing for the homeless or those at risk, and help for home-buyers.

Help for home-buyers! How is that supposed to address homelessness? There is a difference between being unable to afford your stupid mortgage and being homeless. Let me explain.

Assume we have 100 housing units and 98 people. 50 people own their own home (either outright or via a mortgage), 45 are renting and 3 are in a housing commission flat or a nursing home.

Then the financial crisis hits, and 5 people lose ownership of their home for failing to pay the mortgage. Those homes are bought by landlords, who now want tennants.

So we now have 45 people owning their own home and 50 renting. The financial crisis is not like the bombing of London or Berlin, where tens of thousands of buildings were destroyed by bombs. The housing stock has remained the same, only the ownership has changed. People simply go from paying a mortgage to the bank (that they couldn't afford) to paying rent to a landlord.

This model only goes haywire if landlords decline to let their properties, and you have more people seeking a house than there are houses available. I will not pursue this further, but I can't see how helping home-buyers into buying a house is going to reduce homelessness. If you can afford to buy a place, I guess you are not homeless - you are just renting. Now renting is not an ideal situation to be in, but where does it say that the government has to help you move from a situation that you don't prefer to one that you do prefer? I'm renting, for fucks sake, so why should my taxes pay for some other bastard to get a mortgage? Aaaarrrrhhh!

The white paper will outline three key strategies to tackle the homeless scourge: early intervention, expansion of services and "breaking the cycle".

Scourge. Don't you love that word.

Then we have "expansion of services", which means more public servants in better offices with a nicer view.

As for "breaking the cycle", I guess that means that homeless people are in some sort of cycle that prevents them from getting a roof over their head.

I had a flatmate like that once. He was earning good money as a carpenter on the set of The Matrix. He pulled in over a grand a week, and a lot more with overtime. Our rent back then was $110 each.

He had trouble making his bond, and when we kicked him out a few months later, he owed us a month in back rent.

He had cash pouring into his pocket, but his priority was to go to the pub as soon as he was paid and to get drunk and stoned. Once his bender was finished, for lack of cash, he would cadge food from us, and beg forgiveness on the rent.

Then he'd do it again.

When we kicked him out, he had ten bucks in his pocket. But he still had that high paying job. He was just a useless bastard, simple as that. After he was gone, we had people knocking on the door looking for him - others that he owed money to. When we explained that he owed us over $500 in bills and back rent, they calmed down and stomped off in search of his next abode.

So spare me this "breaking the cycle" stuff. Some people are drunken fuckheads, or thieving, conniving junkies. They lack a stable place to live because they are useless, unstable turds.

How much sympathy do I have for them?


I guess that is partly supported by this line in the article:

provide day-to-day support to an extra 1000 adults with mental illness

Mental illness brought on by ice addiction or too many years on the bong?

This next bit is going to be hilarious to watch:

build up to 2700 additional public and community houses for low income households at risk of homelessness

Around here, the Greens think that more social housing, or community housing, or whatever the crap you want to call it, is a good thing. They have gone from hugging trees to hugging winos.

However, the are about to be hit by the reality truck - because with land values the way they are in this neck of the woods, the only way you can build affordable housing is to make it...... high rise. And the Greens hate nothing more around here than high rise.

So, how do you think they will vote when this issue comes up? Will they choose to house the homeless in nice, dry, clean high rise buildings, or leave them sleeping rough under bridges?

I bet the answer is "neither". They will loudly and stridently demand that social housing be built, but mandate that it can't be highrise. Instead of the budget stretching to say the construction of 10 flats at $200k per flat to house all our homeless, it will barely stretch to buying one $2 million house, leaving 9 of our 10 people homeless. They will of course then demand that the budget be increased because of our homelessness problem!!

Fucking madness.

My absolute favourite must be this one:

build up to 4200 new houses and upgrade up to 4800 existing houses in remote indigenous communities

Ahh, why exactly do they need new houses, or to fix up the existing ones?

Because some fuckers have gone through and smashed up all the old ones! Talk about throwing good money after bad. You smash up a house, here's a tent. Thanks, goodbye, now fuck off.

As for this twat:

Yesterday, Brotherhood of St Laurence executive director Tony Nicholson said: "This is the most substantial commitment we've ever seen to tackling homelessness in this country. It is far more substantial and visionary than anything I've seen in comparable countries."

A comprehensive case of "producer capture" I have not seen for a long time. I guess his job as Executive Director is safe now, given the river of cash flowing his way. Looking forward to a pay rise next year?

This item was missing in the SMH article, but it appeared in the Telegraph:

The Government will also regulate tenancy databases by June, 2010 to ensure people are not being excluded and review the impact of state tenancy laws on the homelessness rate.

Sorry, but some people need to be excluded, because they have no respect for the property of others. You smash up a house, fucked if anyone should ever have to rent you another one. Why are landlords reluctant to enter the low cost end of the market? Because of twat-faced rules like this one. Landlords will only develop and own low cost housing if they think they can make a profit from it, and if their profits are destroyed by useless, property destroying fuckheads, they will leave the market.

Leaving the taxpayer to step in and provide housing that can then be smashed up by the same fuckheads. Like I said earlier, here's a fucking tent. Get used to it.

And are you prepared for more property theft, like break and enter?

The federal Government will also turn its attention to state and territory tenancy laws by encouraging the introduction of compulsory Centrelink rent payments for tenants in public housing to remove the threat of eviction from not paying the rent.

Oh great. Sharon the junkie is down to her last hundred dollars. At present, she has a choice between feeding her brats, scoring a fix or paying the rent.

She scores of course, and your DVD player is safe for another day. Sure, her brats are hungry, but there is still a bit of sofa that they have not gnawed on.

With this new system, Sharon won't be down to her last hundred dollars. Centrelink will have taken it from her welfare payment, meaning she has no cash for that score.

Goodbye DVD player.

Under the Government's strategy, about 9000 12- to 18-year-olds, who have been alienated from their families, will be given access to education, training and employment.

They don't have access now? Why not?

What these two articles have not told me is how many people all this money will help.

We are told that 105,000 are homeless, and that $6 billion is to be spent on the problem over 4 years.

If you divide those numbers, you find that $57,000 will be spent on each homeless person over 4 years, or a bit over $14,000 per year. That comes to $275 a week.

$275 a week! If you spent that on rent, you'd get a fabulous share house in just about any suburb in Sydney. And that's per person, so if you have Sharon with 2 brats, she'd get $825 per week for accommodation. That will get you a waterfront mansion around here.

But remember this - they are only aiming to halve the homeless rate, so Sharon could have $1650 in rent per week for herself and her brood. She could live here for $1300 per week.


This unique sub-penthouse set over two levels,offers 4 bedrooms (2 on each level) with built ins to all, main with ensuite, huge, light filled, open plan lounge & separate formal dining room, large galley kitchen with gas/electric cooking & casual eating area. Luxurious modern bathrooms, internal laundry, ducted air conditioning, gas heating, enormous entertaining terrace with sweeping views across the water to the Harbour inclusive of gas outlets for BBQ. 2 additional balconies, Triple LUG with good sized storeroom. Stunning Pool on the waters edge with spa, tennis court facilities within this magnificent 5 star complex. Easy walk to rivercat, shops & CBD transport.

A must to inspect, this home offers the luxuries of a grand hotel suite at the same time the privacy of a home.

It really makes you wonder how much of this money is going to be swallowed by bureaucrats wallowing in the trough of public subsidy.

Of course if the SMH got the numbers wrong and inflated them by a factor of 4, then Sharon would only have $410 a week to spend on rent, meaning she would have to slum it in Concord in something like this:

Bargain - $400 Weekly

Located in a quiet street with view over the Golf Course, this 3 bedroom home features 3 large bedrooms, large living area, neat and tidy kitchen and bathroom, polished floor boards and off street parking. A definate must see so inspect today!

Prepare for a billion or six to be pissed up against the nearest wall.

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