State MP Tony Piccolo, Minister for Social Housing and Peter Sandeman CEO AnglicareSA were on Leon Byner’s 5AA program on Tuesday 26th February speaking about the allocation of public housing.

Leon Byner: My guest today is Tony Piccolo who is the Minister for Social Housing and he is in the studio … there’s a couple of issues … that need to be talked about … you need to interact with the people that you serve and so he’s here to take calls … Miles Kemp has written a story that Housing Trust tenants are angry that prisoners are allowed on priority waiting lists for community homes three months before they’re released from jail. So we’re giving people who are felons privileged treatment against the working class battlers who might be category one but have to fulfil a whole range of criteria … Julie McDonald is saying … many people wait for community housing for years; there are more than 22,000 on the waiting lists. Housing offenders before victims and desperate families and pensioners is unacceptable. So … Tony Piccolo … do you agree that that’s unacceptable or do you endorse that policy?

Piccolo: I think that we need to ensure that anybody who needs a house who’s in need is accommodated for.

Byner: You’re not answering my question; I want a straight answer.

Piccolo: Well, the policy … at the moment is that people who leave a prison are considered … by the Housing Trust to apply for accommodation. What I can say … which was implied in the report this morning was that prisoners or ex-prisoners, I should say, are given special preferential treatment. That’s not the case at all.

Byner: What is the case?

Piccolo: Well, the case is that while they’re in prison … they actually are treated as category three, which is the lowest category … three months prior to leaving prison, if they’ve been indicated that they’re leaving prison they actually have the ability to apply for reconsideration. Having said that, they’re not automatically category one; they are treated like any other person who is

Byner: What would make them category one?

Piccolo: First of all the things they need to say is that they have no family to support them … secondly, there is no private rental sector opportunities to them, there’s also no other short term housing options available to them. So they have to satisfy us as an agency that there is nowhere else for them to go.

Byner: Okay … do you think that putting offenders, people who’ve offended – I mean nobody denies that everybody needs to have a place to live and we do need people who have offended to get rehabilitated, but the people that I’ve spoken to which include criminologists, psychologists and so on make the point that public housing is not necessarily the right venue to put an offender in once they’ve got out of jail. What do you say to that? And if it isn’t … do you have any options?

Piccolo: Yeah, the advantage of putting them in public housing is two fold: one we know where they are so people like parole officers et cetera can actually find them.

Byner: Well hang on … that doesn’t make sense. If you’ve got someone on parole you have to know where they are whether they’re in a public house or not so that’s not an advantage.

Piccolo: Well no there’s two types: there’s people on parole and there’s people who have actually finished their term … if they’ve actually finished their term they’re free to go wherever they’d like to go … so taking that category first, if they’ve finished their term if they’re under public housing … we know where they are …  if they do need support and services we can actually provide those services. And the point you’ve made about rehabilitation, reintegration is entirely right … we need to get these people integrated as quickly as possible. Now, if you’ve come out of a prison there is a stigma attached to that. The reality of trying to find perhaps private rental accommodation is

Byner: Well yes there is but you see there’s a socialisation aspect as well because some people who’ve been incarcerated for a long time need re-socialisation. So you’re putting them in a baptism of fire in a sense in a public house where the normal civil responsibilities that we take for granted in the community are not necessarily there for somebody who’s been incarcerated for a long period of time.

Piccolo: That’s not entirely correct because … there are processes before they actually leave the prisons. There are for example low … security prisons which they go through, there are also other houses and systems they go through before they actually are released.

Byner: So you would argue then – I just want to get this … policy out there that as the Social Housing Minister you think it’s entirely appropriate to put a prisoner in a Housing Trust property, a person who’s just come out of jail or on parole or on home D in a public property

Piccolo: Well by your own words you indicated everybody has a right to accommodation and that’s what we’re doing. You said yourself everyone has a right to accommodation.

Byner: Yes but you see you’re not really answering my question because … you’ve taken one part of what I’ve said. Yes they do; we need more supported accommodation where there are people having a look over the shoulder of those who are vulnerable because you’re putting an awesome responsibility on somebody in a public house and frankly they’re not fully socialised. If they were they wouldn’t be a problem in the community which unfortunately many of them are.

Piccolo: Well, the very first thing of socialising people is to make sure that they actually  have a roof over their head, they have a normal life, as normal as possible given their circumstances … and the other thing is … you’re quite right, they do need support services, I agree with you 100% so … we actually deliver  services to these people. It is not always possible to put a lot of all ex-prisoners together and I’m not sure it would be desirable to put all ex-prisoners together, and in fact some of the parole requirements actually they’re not allowed to associate with other ex-prisoners as well.

Byner: I’m not suggesting you should put all ex-prisoners together, all I’m saying is that you’ve got a very blunt instrument that you’ve got to try and make fit a circumstance that mightn’t be appropriate. That doesn’t mean that you’ve got to house everybody that comes out of jail in a halfway house, but clearly some people don’t … really accept well the responsibility of all of a sudden I’m out there in the community just like everybody else

Peter Sandeman, CEO, AnglicareSA

Byner: Let’s talk to the Chief Executive of Anglicare, Peter Sandeman … what’s your view on this?

Sandeman: Well my view is that it’s a matter of where we place people and making sure they’re placed where they’re going to be safe and more importantly perhaps the community is safe too.

Byner: … what are you implying by that?

Sandeman: Well reading the article this morning it seemed to me the major point was inappropriate locations for people so that it’s really important to make sure that when you place somebody in the community that you’re not going to cause more harm. So we tend to use our own property or we would head lease properties from a private landlord or from the Housing Trust just to try and increase the flexibility of location to be a bit sensitive about that … you don’t want to congregate … as the Minister’s being saying, you don’t want to congregate ex-prisoners together and you certainly want to be careful who you put next door to each other.

Byner: So do you think that public housing works for this or do you think we need maybe more supported accommodation?

Sandeman: Well you need both actually. Public housing can work for many ex-prisoners because we’re kind of lumping people together in a way. There are many ex-prisoners who make a good go of it, they’ve done their crime, done their time and they don’t want to go back. So many ex-prisoners make a good go of it but some people – as you pointed out there’s a re-socialisation component here and so having halfway houses and having the ability to move people from more supported to less supported accommodation as they acclimatise to being on the outside is the key.

Byner: Okay, so do we have enough of that?

Sandeman: Well, according to our calculations we’re about 16,000 houses short … you cited 20,000 on the waiting list, we reckon there’s about 16,000 houses for low income people generally short in South Australia. We’re part of a national phenomenon where trying to get more social housing is a big battle for everyone.