Social issues

Helping the Homeless

While you read this you might be tucked into bed, or sitting in your home with a roof over your head. But there are thousands of people outside your door that have no shelter or their own place to sleep at night. They are really roughing it. Colosoul explores the sad reality of homelessness…

– by Simon Chitre

Homelessness is a massive social problem in the world and Australia, but it is important we define the term before we explore the issue further. There is not one single definition but Homelessness Australia, a Not-For-Profit (NFP) organisation that works closely with homelessness assistant services, government agencies and the community, says that it does not simply mean not having a roof over one’s head for the night. They use the ABS (Government) definition that says, “when a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives they are considered homeless if their current living arrangement: is in a dwelling that is inadequate; or has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable; or does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations”.

Although, the definition of homelessness does vary between jurisdictions, Kids Under Cover a NFP organisation that helps young people at risk of homelessness, includes people who are forced to move between emergency accommodation like refuges, ‘couch surfing’ or live in housing which falls below minimum standards, like a caravan park or boarding house.

ST Vincent De Paul

Currently in Australia there are 105,237 homeless people, which is 49 out of every 10,000 people or 0.5% of the population. Broken down further, this census data reveals that 56% of homeless victims are men, 44% are women and of this, 43% are young people between the ages of 12 and 34 totaling 45,550 people.

According to this data, 25 to 34 year olds are the most vulnerable age group, representing 18% (19,312 people) of the total number of homeless people. Young people count for the highest proportion of homeless, compared to other age brackets in Australia.

State by state New South Wales has the most homeless (28,190), followed by Victoria (22,789) and then Queensland (19,838). By contrast Tasmania has the least amount of homeless persons (1,579) followed by the Australian Capital Territory (1,785) (see figure 1). However this largely reflects the population sizes of each respective state and territory so when we examine the rate of homelessness per proportion of 10,000 people this provides a more realistic overview.

Figure 1 below demonstrates the Northern Territory has the highest proportion of homelessness by a clear majority 730.7 per 10,000 people, which along with Queensland (48.5 per 10,000 people) was the only state to reduce their figures since the 2006 census. The Australian Capital Territory has the second highest proportion with Queensland coming in third, Western Australia in fourth, fifth Victoria and New South Wales sixth. Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales all reported large increases in the percentage of homelessness with 32.9%, 20.7% and 20.4% respectively. These statistics reflect that in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia there is a higher proportion of Indigenous persons, whom traditionally have been more disadvantaged, marginalised and more likely to suffer inadequate housing and homelessness. It is deeply worrying that 5 out of 7 states and territories had an increase in the proportion of people suffering homelessness, with some very large increases.

State breakdown

  • NSW 28,190 (40.8 people per 10,000) +20.4% since 2006
  • VIC 22,789 (42.6 people per 10,000) +20.7 since 2006
  • QLD 19,838 (48.5 people per 10,000) -5.1% since 2006
  • SA 5,985 (37.5 people per 10,000) +1.4% since 2006
  • WA 9,592 (42.8 people per 10,000) +1.1% since 2006
  • TAS 1,579 (31.9 people per 10,000) +32.9% since 2006
  • NT 15,479 (730.7 people per 10,000) -7.8% since 2006
  • ACT 1,785 (50 people per 10,000) +70.6% since 2006

Figure 1: State by state figures on the prevalence of homelessness per 10,000 people

It is important to note people do not choose homelessness, particularly young people who are sometimes forced into the situation. Often their lives have become emotionally stressful sometimes dealing with unemployment, physical and sexual abuse, disability, poor health, mental illnesses or poverty. They often become caught in a cycle and feel they have no option except to leave their home environment to escape, which if they are not ready for emotionally and financially, leaves them to feeling isolated and trapped, and therefore homeless.

Brigitte Werner

What can we do about homelessness? The single largest cause of homelessness in Australia is domestic and family violence, largely effecting women and children. So educating our community particularly younger people in schools to respect each other and to solve problems without the use of violence may result in a reduction in domestic violence and thus reduce homelessness.

A lack of affordable housing and high rent prices mean people from low socio-economic backgrounds are more susceptible to homelessness. Community welfare organisations consistently state this is a major problem, they believe that more funds are needed to reduce public housing lists and provide better quality accommodation, would reduce the amount of people being forced into rental or housing stress. Prevention is better than a cure, so ensuring young people have access to education and employment, clear information to seek help, and support to stay connected to their families and communities is critical.

Overall there are many things we can do to prevent homelessness but it requires a committed government and community approach. It is deeply saddening that in a wealthy country such as Australia, more than 100,000 people will be homelessness tonight. We need to end homelessness once and for all to make an equal, inclusive and productive society.

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