In Homelessness Week 2023 we took our stories to Canberra

August 25, 2023

In National Homelessness Week representatives from the Asylum Seekers Centre and other support organisations went to Canberra to advocate for people seeking asylum and share the everyday experiences of homelessness in our community.

We shared stories from our community with the Parliamentary Friends for Refugees group, advocating for crucial changes to a system that is exacerbating the trauma of those already escaping severe hardship.

ASC Interim CEO Danielle Townsend (far left) with other leaders from the Refugee Council of Australia, St Vincent’s Hospital, Salvation Army, House of Welcome and the Jesuit Refugee Service at Parliament House.

People seeking asylum facing homelessness

People seeking asylum in this country, faced with long waits for decisions on their applications, do not have access to a welfare safety net. The uncertainty and anxiety of prolonged wait times are exacerbated by their exclusion from mainstream social support systems such as Centrelink and, for some, Medicare. Many are not able to work as a condition of their visas.

The Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program, a Federal Government program to provide essential financial assistance while people are waiting for their visas to be resolved, has suffered cuts of around 95% over the past decade. With rents and cost of living skyrocketing, organisations like the ASC are trying to support many more people seeking asylum who are facing homelessness and destitution, and are struggling to keep up.

There are more than 70,000 individuals currently awaiting decisions on their protection applications. Their cases and situations are remarkably diverse. While most are able to find jobs and provide for themselves, others can’t work due to visa restrictions or physical or psychological barriers. People in need of financial and targeted social support include families with young children, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and survivors of domestic violence.

What government support is available for people seeking asylum?

The SRSS program, once a lifeline, provides a very few people the small amount of $45 per day, leaving many struggling to make ends meet even when they are eligible. An increasingly restricted eligibility criteria has led to complex administrative hurdles for applicants and complexity. The ASC is regularly supporting people who are deterred by the requirement to produce up to 16 pieces of documentation, or by complicated paperwork that is impossible to complete.

The lack of access to SRSS has put pressure on charities and community organisations to support an increasing amount of people. Homelessness, food insecurity, and mental health concerns have surged among the asylum seeker community. However because asylum seekers are temporary visa holders, they are not eligible for regular homelessness services provided by state governments. 

The NSW Government provided emergency funding to organisations supporting people seeking asylum during Covid-19. However, when this funding ended in June 2023, the NSW government indicated they will not extend it because “the responsibility to provide funding…sits with the Federal Government”. This funding was supporting at least 4300 people in Sydney each year.

Recommendations to the Federal Government

Addressing this pressing issue requires immediate action and a commitment to reform. We presented the following measures to the Parliamentary group as pivotal to ensuring the end of this crisis:

Expanded Visa Rights: People seeking asylum who are awaiting decisions must be granted valid visas with work rights, study rights, and access to Medicare to ensure they have the necessary support during the application process.
Simplified SRSS Application Process: Streamlining the SRSS application process will enable eligible individuals to access essential support without unnecessary obstacles.
Broader Eligibility Criteria: Expanding the SRSS Program’s eligibility parameters, and using the previously underspent $22 million budget, can significantly alleviate deep poverty.
Emergency Assistance: Emergency payments should encompass those facing crises like homelessness, severe health conditions, and domestic violence.
Access to Services: People seeking asylum should be entitled to emergency accommodation and homelessness services funded by both federal and state resources.

The challenges faced by people in our community require prompt and resolute action. It is imperative that the Government commits to increasing the safety net for those seeking protection, addressing the extreme poverty in our community and upholding principles of empathy and inclusivity which everyday Australians value so much.

City2Surf 2023: Team ASC in action Returning from abroad – Letter from the CEO