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Handouts miss mark for homeless Australia

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Free meals and charity blankets are a feel-good response and bandaid fix for Australia's homeless population, an international expert warns.

Canadian Observatory of Homelessness chief executive Stephen Gaetz told attendees at a two-day homelessness conference in Melbourne that crisis response - such as food and shelter - should only be a short-term solution.

"It is a very well-meaning response because we don't like to see people suffering on the streets," he told AAP of charity donations on the sidelines of the Victorian Homelessness Conference, which continues on Tuesday.

"We have to do it because we are not doing anything else. They are trying to help people that are in crisis. (But) let's never mistake a crisis response for a real response."

More than 32,300 Australians aged 15 to 24 asked for help with homelessness last year, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has revealed.

The government needs to step up to create a homelessness strategy tied to a housing plan to get people off the streets in the long-term, Dr Gaetz said.

"Australia has historically has been a leader for prevention and it could be a time to come back to that ... by focusing on prevention and investing in housing," Dr Gaetz said.

"The focus should not be 'let's get you a cot and a cup of soup'... (rather) our job is to make sure you don't become homeless and never become homeless again."

Another international expert, Melanie Redman, who is chief executive of A Way Home Canada, will on Tuesday speak about the need to address youth homelessness.

Last month lord mayors from across Australia tried to strike a deal to have debts to the Commonwealth waived so the money could be funnelled into new social housing.

© AAP 2019

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