Ron Simpson has been sleeping on the streets of Parramatta for six months.

He is primarily supported with money that passersby drop into the hat that rests beside him on the ground, and he receives fortnightly JobSeeker payments.

“Homeless people don’t have a voice,” says the 56-year-old. “The government only cares about the issues that earn them money and affect richer people.”

Parramatta Station is a starkly different landscape compared to the farm near Wiseman’s Ferry where he spent several years of his working life before he broke both ankles in a machinery accident, leaving him unemployed.

Ron’s story represents just one experience out of the 122,000 people who are homeless on any given night in Sydney, according to the 2021 Census.

The 2024-25 Federal Budget has allocated a total of $11.3 billion towards affordable housing and homelessness, including $9.3 billion which will be spent on a five-year National Agreement on Social Housing and Homelessness.

But, despite aiming to deliver cost of living relief for low-income Australians, many experts say funding remains insufficient and fails to meet the needs of a large portion of the population.

“For social housing and homelessness funding, the budget is bleak,” says Chris Martin, a senior lecturer at the City Futures Research Centre at UNSW Arts.

“For 80 years there’s been some kind of version of the National Agreement. The advertisement of ‘new funding’ in the media is basically announcing a business-as-usual agreement.”

The $9.3 billion surplus in the budget, according to Treasurer Jim Chalmers, reflects a strategy of “responsible economic management” to reduce inflation.

But Martin disputes the idea that a surplus will benefit Australians who are bearing the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis.

Is this really the time to have a surplus in our budget when Australians are facing homelessness, the housing crisis and require desperate rental relief?

“Federal funding has been a starvation ration for three decades now,” he says. “When we talk about delivering a surplus, we’re talking about extracting a surplus, money which has been taken out of the non-government sector and presented as a positive thing… That’s wealth taken out of everyone else.”

John Engler, the chief executive of Shelter NSW, agrees.

“Is this really the time to have a surplus in our budget when Australians are facing homelessness, the housing crisis and require desperate rental relief?” he asks.

Shelter NSW advocates for policy reform in the housing system and is lobbying for 10 per cent of all housing to be social housing by 2040, a figure that is currently sitting at less than 4 per cent.

The Coalition has committed $10 billion towards the Housing Australia Future Fund which promises to build an additional 30,000 social and affordable rental homes, and a further $2 billion to establish 4,000 social homes under the Social Housing Accelerator.

Engler says this level of funding remains inadequate.

“When resources aren’t provided for frontline services and social housing, pressure increases, and there is a correlation with homelessness,” he adds.

“We have noticed that there are more people sleeping rough, but additionally, the impact of housing insecurity means that people who can’t afford rent are scared of leaving their current property due to housing precarity… vacancy rates are at less than 1 per cent.”

For renters in the private housing industry, the Labor government allocated $2.7 billion to increase Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 15 per cent to provide cost of living relief.

While the Tenants Union of NSW welcomes this funding, chief executive Leo Patterson Ross says a systemic overhaul is ultimately required.

“We haven’t been treating housing as an essential service,” he says. “There has been a lack of planning and government oversight, unlike the treatment of other services such as electricity, water and healthcare.

We know that this housing crisis needs an answer – yet with this lacklustre announcement, Labor is dismally failing the public.

“The market is set up to encourage investors, with a lack of regulation and safeguards for renters. The Federal government needs to fund state governments on the basis that they establish a better regulatory framework, rather than supporting a system that encourages homelessness and housing insecurity.”

The Tenants Union provides legal advice and social housing support to over 35,000 renters annually, including 5,000 people who they represent in the Consumer Trading and Tenancy Tribunal following eviction.

Ross says renters are often forced to live in overly expensive or unsafe accommodation and criticises the absence of legal protections against no-grounds evictions.

International student Raksha Nair, 30, is all too familiar with the rental crisis. She tells Central News that after immigrating to Australia from India to study a Master of Information Technology, she struggled with rental and living expenses.

“Honestly, it bothers me a lot, worrying about the cost of living, buying groceries and everything… It’s robbing people, that’s how I see it,” she says.

“My rent has gone up by 15 per cent recently, it has led to a lot of sleepless nights.”

Jenny Leong, Greens MP for Newtown, described the budget funding as an inadequate response to the severity of the current housing and rental crisis.

“In the midst of a rental crisis the latest announcement delivers nothing for renters and no plan to limit rent increases,” she says.

“The Federal Labor Government’s announcement of $9.3 billion funding for a five-year National Agreement on Social Housing and Homelessness is a sham.

“Under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement that was agreed to by the Morrison Government, the federal government already would be providing $8.5 billion to Australia’s states and territories to address housing and homelessness over the next five years. All this does is add a bit for indexation – there’s no new money here.

“We’re seeing the impacts of unstable and unaffordable housing on families and communities across the state. We know that this housing crisis needs an answer – yet with this lacklustre announcement, Labor is dismally failing the public.”

Main image of Ron Simpson, left, and his friend Jake at Parramatta station by Ainslie McNally.