ADELAIDE: New Wards of the State Outside the Social Inclusion Commission
Posted by lahar9jhadav on April 9, 2008
original source here
(used without permission)
New Wards of the State
Outside the Social Inclusion Commission
Adelaide, South Australia
Clouds of saltwater mosquitoes arise in the darkness from the estuary as the police and a private security guard order me to pack up my tent and leave where I’ve camped on and off for four years.
The next morning I’m drinking tea under a tree as David Cappo, boss of the Social Inclusion Commission1, says on my radio the government is spending $20 million over the next few years to increase the dignity of those living outside-he calls us “homeless”.
I email him from the library saying how police forced me off government land at Port Adelaide the previous night-land vacant for twenty years. He doesn’t respond.
A year later I’m living in a rundown retirement unit and catch the train to Adelaide to visit his Social Inclusion Commission at the State Administration Centre. They’ll treat me like royalty: ex-homeless man now writing for Big Issue magazine.
But the reception is less than sweet. They tell the policeman downstairs not to let me up and a bureaucrat, David Waterford, reluctantly descends to the ground floor front desk.
He eyeballs me, standing close like a charity collector trying to put you off-balance. I ask him: “How many people sleeping outside have been housed from the million dollars already spent?”
He shouts spitty jargon-loaded answers into my face in a quasi-public dressing down to the bemusement or alarm of those going in and out of the building.
Why don’t we talk in your office?” I suggest, after twenty minutes, “where it would be quieter”. He ignores the question, hands me some generic pamphlets then disappears through the turnstiles. The policeman shoots me a ‘time to leave’ look.
Census figures for 2001 list just under 900 primary homeless people in South Australia. These include those living on the ground, in culverts, in cars, in doorways. David Waterford emails the following day saying that the government has provided “long term housing to over 1560 people who are homeless and vulnerable as new tenants”, via the South Australian Housing Trust.2 This suggests Adelaide’s homeless are now housed, in one massive swoop: there should be no one left outside.
But the scenes at Byron Place Community Centre and Hutt Street Centre challenge this view. The morning rush of mosquito-bitten men and women storing their bedding, showering, doing their laundry, attending the nurses’ room is unabated. I ask three employees if numbers have dropped. “No,” they’re unanimous.
The Social Inclusion Commission’s definition of “homelessness” includes those living in boarding houses, emergency shelters, psychiatric hostels, caravan parks and being temporary guests with friends and relatives. They’re called secondary and tertiary homeless and number over 5000 in South Australia while there are about 900 primary homeless with about 120 living in the Adelaide CBD. The Commission claims statistics showing how many “rough sleepers” have been housed aren’t available despite monthly figures provided to them by various agencies.3 Nor will they say if those “homeless” housed by the Trust would have been housed anyway regardless of the existence of the Social Inclusion Commission.
The Commission is based in the Dept of Premier and Cabinet and operates across government departments, ordering changes that target homeless people. Its boss is Monsignor David Cappo, a Catholic Church Vicar General and also a State Cabinet Executive appointee with equal status to Cabinet Ministers.
He overrides junior ministers and departmental CEOs despite never having faced the ballot box. I decide to cut through the bureaucracy and interview him directly.
He can hardly refuse my request: ex-homeless man writing for Big Issue Magazine sold on the streets by homeless people. I began writing for the magazine using candlelight whilst living in a tent on the mud flats north of Port Adelaide. These are real homeless credentials.
He won’t be able to avoid direct questions with my voice recorder on the table. I’ll ask how many humans living outside have been housed, how many are left; did any of his $4m annual homeless budget provide blankets, tarps and food to people sleeping in the cemetery across West Terrace from his residence.
Monsignor Cappo agrees to an interview. An hour of his time is locked in; then he has second thoughts.
An underling phones Big Issue and, yes, I’m a regular columnist writing the Postcards from the Fringe section, but the Editor admits the Social Inclusion article isn’t actually commissioned, but would be published depending on the “quality”. That’s enough and David Waterford emails:
“Monsignor Cappo has asked me to advise you that he is only available for an interview if it is for a commissioned article. As this is not [the] case the appointment with you … will not be proceeding.”4 The Social Inclusion Commission is listed in Big Issue as a Major Sponsor.
The South Australian Housing Trust controls nearly fifty thousand dwellings and should be the key housing provider for people living outside so I seek to interview them. Negotiations proceed nicely until the Social Inclusion Commission steps in and the Trust stops further communication.
I write Jay Weatherill, the Minister of Housing, asking to interview a Trust officer. He replies:
“…I am pleased that you intend to write an article examining the South Australian Government’s response to homelessness…I am more than willing to assist you with any information you require…I look forward to reading it.”5
I also ask Mike Rann, The Premier of South Australia, to order the Social Inclusion Commission to provide an officer, separately, to answer my questions.
The Social Inclusion Commission responds announcing a joint interview then cancels it when I ask to question the Housing Trust person separately. Jay Weatherill doesn’t reply when I tell him what happened and ask him again to provide a Trust officer for an interview.
David Waterford emails me a year later stating that numbers of homeless housed have reached:
“595 people to 31 October 2005,” adding, “[This] includes people in both primary and secondary homeless at time supported, but most have had an experience of sleeping out as part of their homelessness. Breakdown of destination data is not currently available.”6
He claims ignorance as to where they were housed nor differentiates between people living in caravan parks and desperadoes living under sheets of plastic. Nor will he explain how the 1560 figure has declined to 595.
Waterford says estimates are that primary homeless has dropped from: “… somewhere around a 40 to 60% reduction for the inner city…”7
This is so preposterous I ask the same three homeless Day Centre employees previously questioned. They say numbers haven’t reduced. Waterford and Cappo both refuse to explain where these estimates originated however one government welfare worker, wanting to remain anonymous, told me:
“We find it a bit of a joke when we open a newspaper or Social Inclusion newsletter saying homelessness has reduced.”
Another, a social worker, says:
“We had 17 new homeless clients last week. Has homelessness dropped in the CBD? Absolutely not. Unless they commit to housing you won’t reduce homelessness.”
“Can I name you?” I ask.
“I’d prefer you didn’t,”
“You’re afraid of recriminations?”
“Absolutely, it’s another world out there,” she says. 8
So who gets the $4 million spent annually on homelessness. A conservative church-based welfare worker says:
“…there is certainly a few dollars being thrown around.”
“How does a homeless person access two dollars of it?” I ask.
“…well, they certainly don’t access the money.”
“Can they get blankets from it?”
“Certainly not, um.”
And about criticising the allocation of money: “…if you’re really critical agency funding is on the line…”9
David Cappo is an astute and ambitious political figure who can ruin careers and cut funding. He has two titles. The first is State Commissioner for Social Inclusion with a salary of $100,000 a year. The second is Monsignor Vicar General David Cappo of the Catholic Church with vows of humility and poverty. 10 He can march into government departments and order changes like the Community Liaison Team at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
People are discharged increasingly early from overcrowded public hospitals and homeless patients still recovering from illness are pushed onto the streets.
I’ve experienced this myself having being discharged from the Royal Adelaide Hospital with internal chest injuries back onto the street. “You can go,” a nurse said without warning during lunch then, in a rush of compassion, added, “oh, finish eating.” I stumbled onto North Terrace barely able to walk.
The three woman Liaison Team prowl the Emergency Casualty section spotting homeless patients then provide money for toiletries and personal items, and organise shelter upon discharge. “No strings attached,” Sarah and Vicki of the Team chorus.
While I waited in the emergency ward to speak to the women, a grateful and somewhat infatuated Russell, a thin fifty-year-old man arrived with flowers, graciously accepted by Sarah.
Sarah is the “nicest American I’ve ever met,” another man tells me during lunch at the Baptist Mission near Whitmore Square.
The nurses’ station at Adelaide’s city jail is another social inclusion initiative. Injured and ill prisoners are given medical attention while previously being dumped into cells untreated.
However, the lack of cheap rental housing belies the Social Inclusion Commission’s claim to be concerned with housing. Over a hundred people, many physically ill and desperate for housing, live outside in the CBD. A similar number languish on MACHA’s ever-lengthening waiting list. And despite the money pouring into “homelessness” those living outside don’t appear to be seeing many benefits. I asked one support caseworker how many people he could place into housing if it were available immediately. He said dozens and estimated fifty people would readily accept rental housing. Yet, he says: “It’s certainly harder to get people accommodation than when I started five years ago…”11
The allocation of housing due to patronage rather than equal need is also a problem. A government employed social worker friend rejected two Housing Trust units and theoretically would have gone to the bottom of the list. Instead he visited a former colleague now a Trust employee, saying he wanted something in the CBD and within a few weeks moved in.
Similarly, I had progressed from 80 to 40th place on the MACHA waiting list over an 18-month period. Then I wrote in Big Issue magazine that MACHA had a three-year waiting list.12 Within weeks I jumped from 40th to first place and was offered two units that I rejected since something wasn’t quite right. I asked Matthew Woodward, CEO of MACHA how I’d moved so quickly within a few weeks. “That’s confidential,” he said.13 Conversely, when I complained to the State Ombudsman about the lack of transparency of the Housing Trust’s waiting list I began moving backward on its list.14
The Housing Trust avoids estimating waiting times but says over half of those housed from Category 3 during the 2004-2005 financial year were housed within two years of applying. Yet during this year just 1104 new tenancies came from the Category 3 waiting list of 17,864. Is this statistical trickery by the Trust, or outright corruption? The Housing Trust won’t explain.15
There is enough turnover of Trust tenants to house South Australia’s 900 primary homeless within a year, but the Social Inclusion Initiatives aren’t about housing people. In their 2003 report: “Everyone’s Responsibility: Reducing Homelessness in South Australia”, the word “intervention” is repeated 167 times.16 This “intervention” often means “Case Management” where to get housing one must provide intimate details of one’s life not related to housing. Then one must sign a form agreeing that these details can be shared whenever the “case manager” sees fit, and without informing the case-managed person this has been done.
For example, MACHA (Multi-Agency Community Housing Association) manages 200 government-owned flats and units reserved for people having experienced extended periods living outside. Macha requires “Case Management” by one of the homeless agencies like Byron Place (Wesley Uniting), Westcare (Baptist) or Hutt Street Centre (Catholic) to get on their waiting list, one reason being to stop non-homeless queue jumpers. Another is to force people living outside to trade a portion of their civil liberties in exchange for getting on a faster waiting list.
The government wants prospective tenants to confront certain issues before they move into housing: issues like crime, drugs, mental illness and the difficulty obtaining furnishings and getting used to four walls, and this almost invariably includes pressure to use psychiatric drugs. But signing up is like declaring oneself defective and agreeing to a rehabilitation that resembles recanting one’s beliefs and learned behaviour. This coercive approach is particularly damaging if the “Case Manager” fails to understand that “homeless behaviour” is a means of psychological and physical survival, a skill to be preserved not a defect needing to be “fixed”.
Tenancies obtained via case management often involve continued monitoring where, for example, MACHA encourages tenants to accept Red Cross volunteers into their homes.17 It’s “friendship based,” says Joanna Richardson, Coordinator of the Red Cross Inner City Support Program, “the idea is to take them out for a cuppa, whatever, so they’ve got, instead of [just] their friends…they’re getting somebody else with a different concept, [a different] look at life… Sometimes they like someone to go in to choose a shirt.” 18
Helen Farinola, Red Cross Services Manager, adds, “Our volunteers aren’t there to monitor or make judgements on people’s living. We’re not going into peoples’ homes saying you shouldn’t be drinking…”19 However, arranging a visitor requires the tenant signing an agreement allowing Red Cross to inform the landlord, Macha, if the tenancy is at risk.
Herein lies the danger: the ex-homeless person may deal with seven or eight agencies that usually share information with each other, and not all acting in the best interests of the homeless person. One information predator is the well-funded government psychiatric outfit, Street-to-home, that is forming a central register of homeless people. They want to know everything about each person living outside.
Street-to-home systematically searches for those sleeping outside then uses psychiatric detention orders, or threat of, to remove them from the Adelaide parklands. The Manager of Street-to-home, Greg Calder, interprets case management to the extent of saying: “There’s no such thing as client self-determination.”20
Red Cross, to its credit, has rejected “partnership” proposals from Street-to-home but other agencies don’t have such strict privacy protocols and give Street-to-home more access to client details.
State Commissioner Monsignor Vicar General Cappo advocates reduced privacy: “Privacy laws, I think, are really creating obstacles for a lot of people within the mental health system…more and more an issue that gotta be addressed…”21
“Social Inclusion” isn’t about renting affordable accommodation to those living outside. It is about withdrawing affordable housing rented by the “homeless” then rationing smaller amounts back as a mechanism to control their lives. This explains why East Park Lodge, apparently renovated for those living outside, has been kept nearly empty; and why the vaunted million-dollar redevelopment of Afton House hasn’t started. It is about control and the eradication of a way of life by reducing access to food, shelter and water. It isn’t about providing these basic necessities.
The paradox of “social inclusion” is that those who can’t or won’t agree to supervision and control of their lives are further marginalised, as housing previously available becomes less available.
Even Day Centres providing showers, tea and refuge from the weather reduce their opening hours for those who don’t participate in “socially inclusive” and therapeutic activities.
We’re entering a social phase where those living outside are classed as defective and treated accordingly. These are the new wards of the state.
1. The Social Inclusion Unit was rebadged the Social Inclusion Commission in April 2006 when its Chair, David Cappo, received the new title of State Commissioner for Social Inclusion. I’ve used the latest terms throughout for ease of reading.
2. Waterford, David. Email to the author 10 Nov 2004
3. Church and other agencies funded by the Social Inclusion Commission are required to complete a monthly form that includes the question: “How many of your clients who were ‘sleeping rough’ were found ‘secure’ accommodation this month?”
4. Waterford, David. Email to the author 1 December 2004
5. Weatherill, Jay. Minister for Housing, South Australian Government. Letter to the author 13 July 2005
6. Waterford, David. Email to the author 19 December 2005.
7. Waterford, David. Email to the author 23 January 2006. This was Waterford’s last response before going silent. “Carbon copy” questions were sent to David Cappo’s personal email address as well as the Social Inclusion Commission offices.
8. Over 18 months I questioned two-dozen welfare professionals and government bureaucrats formally and informally, usually on the condition of anonymity.
9. Recorded interview with a church employee who wishes to remain anonymous.
10. Cappo, David interviewed on ABC radio 5AN 891 by Matthew Abraham and David Bevan. 28 April 2006.
11. Recorded Interview March 2006. I failed to make it clear during the interview whether the speaker would be quoted so the social worker’s identity is not disclosed.
12. Barber, Norm. “The Outsiders”, Big Issue Magazine, Issue No 226. Melbourne. April 2005
13. Woodward, Matthew. Recorded interview with author 24 August, 2005
14. Andricic, Susie. South Australian Housing Trust, Port Adelaide. Four letters to the author. During and after complaining to the Public Housing Appeal Panel and the South Australian Ombudsman my position on the waiting list deteriorated from 33 to 38 over a six-month period after years of continuous decline.
15. South Australian Housing Trust. “Trust in Focus 2004-2005”. Government of South Australia. Adelaide. I have written and emailed a number of Trust employees including the General Manager, Malcolm Downie, without response.
16. Social Inclusion Commission. “Everyone’s Responsibility: Reducing Homelessness in South Australia”. Government of South Australia. Adelaide. 2003
17. Weatherill, Jay. Minister for Housing, Government of South Australia. “Practical Support To Tackle Homelessness” – Media Release: Wednesday, 19 October, 2005 www.families.sa.gov.au/Default.aspx?tabid=53&mid=460&ctl=ViewDetails&ItemID=216&PageIn
18. Recorded interview with Joanna Richardson, Coordinator, Inner City Support Program; Helen Farinola, Services Manager and Rosale Pace, Team Leader, Community Support Services, all from Australian Red Cross. 21 April 2006. Adelaide
19. Recorded interview with Joanna Richardson, Coordinator, Inner City Support Program; Helen Farinola, Services Manager and Rosale Pace, Team Leader, Community Support Services, all from Australian Red Cross. 21 April, 2006. Adelaide
20. Calder, Greg. Manager of Street-to-home, 15 Bentham Street, Adelaide, a mental health section of the Department of Health but controlled by the Social Inclusion Commission of the Dept of Premier and Cabinet. He sums up “case management” somewhat euphemistically in an email to the author dated 4 November 2005:
“Assertive team case management is utilised by Street to Home staff to maintain continuity of support to the client. Support is provided until the client is stabilised in long-term accommodation, or an alternative lead agency has assumed a primary case-management/support role. Withdrawal of Street to Home Service occurs in a graduated manner, with clearly identified processes for service re-engagement, if required.”
However, it is Calder’s statement: “There’s no such thing as client self-determination,” made to a number of welfare workers, that perhaps sums up Street-to-home policy more accurately.
21. Cappo, David interviewed on ABC radio 5AN 891 by Matthew Abraham and David Bevan. 28 April 2006.
Norm Barber is a long time Adelaide Author -he has published many books including:
HOW TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL DERELICT IN ADELAIDE (1987)
HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL NERVOUS BREAKDOWN IN ADELAIDE (1988)
DISAPPEARING CHARITY DONATIONS IN ADELAIDE (1991)
HOW TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL HEALER IN ADELAIDE – starting with yourself (1992)
all written with insight, compassion and intelligence.