As the number of homeless individuals sleeping on sidewalks starts to rise once more, Sydney’s business community is advocating for the appointment of a commissioner to address homelessness.
Paul Nicolaou – executive director of Business Sydney – sought a meeting with the Premier to discuss the establishment of the new position and the conversion of an abandoned state government building in the CBD into crisis housing.
A commissioner for homelessness, according to Nicolaou, may enhance coordination between governmental agencies and ngos. In mid-2022, he brought up the notion for the first time, under the old Perrottet state government. Although the NSW Liberals did not support the idea, Chris Minns of Labour decided to suggest a rental commissioner who would act as a liaison between stakeholders and the bureaucracy. This is what renewed Nicolaou’s optimism.
Trina Jones – a proponent of the idea of a homelessness commissioner and the former leader of the non-governmental advocacy group Homelessness NSW – has been appointed as the new rental commissioner.
According to the City of Sydney council’s most recent figures, there were 277 homeless persons in the area in February, up from 225 the previous year – a 23 per cent rise; it was the first increase since February 2019 as a result.
Nicolaou expressed his profuse disappointment with the current situation in the city.
“We are a wealthy nation and a wealthy city which makes this phenomenon entirely unacceptable,” he said. Making a direct comparison with the USA, Nicolaou added “you don’t want Sydney to end up like New York or San Francisco.”
According to Nicolaou, funding for new bike lanes would be better used to assist those in need of housing. The Greek-Australian businessman argued that “we shouldn’t be having large numbers of people sleeping on the streets while we are spending money on bike lanes” as tackling homelessness is a far more important issue.
However, the city supported its own position, and stated that $2.2 million had been spent on homelessness compared to $1.3 million spent on bike lanes.
The city also stated that “the NSW Government is in charge of housing policies, as well as of addressing homelessness throughout the state” and argued that despite this condition, it has nonetheless dedicated funds towards addressing the issue.
Still, Nicolaou insisted that the city can do more in what concerns homelessness and – to that end – he advocated for the use of vacant government buildings, which could be modified to be used as shelters.