Homelessness in Australia

A "tent city" in Sydney, Australia. Editorial credit: ArliftAtoz2205 / Shutterstock.com.
A "tent city" in Sydney, Australia. Editorial credit: ArliftAtoz2205 / Shutterstock.com.

As its name suggests, homelessness occurs when an individual is unable to obtain permanent, safe, and sufficient housing. Individuals experiencing homelessness may live in temporary shelters on squatted property, pay for long-term residence in hotels, or sleep in homeless or domestic violence shelters. Around the world, it is estimated that more than 150 million are homeless. An additional 1 billion live in temporary situations (often as squatters or refugees). This article takes a specific look at homelessness in Australia.

Homelessness In Australia

One of the most significant social problems in Australia is homelessness. It is most pronounced in large urban areas, such as Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. In Australia, approximately 105,000 people are considered homeless.

The definition of homelessness is different from country to country. In Australia, it means that a person does not have safe and secure access to housing. Additionally, homelessness is defined as somebody in a dwelling that poses major health risks or as a situation in which the adequacy or affordability of the home is at risk. People with no legal claim to their occupied territory are also considered homeless.

Australian Census For Homelessness

According to the 2011 Census, 105,237 individuals were experiencing homelessness on the day the census was taken. In other words, this is 1 out of every 200 Australian resident. This statistic exhibited a 17% increase over the prior 2006 Census numbers, meaning the issue has increased in severity.

The Census further categorized homelessness by using one of the six following classifications: people staying in households other than their own, staying in boarding houses, living in extremely overcrowded conditions, having supported accommodations, sleeping in tents and other improvised housing, and staying in other temporary structures.

Additionally, the Census documented that men make up 56% of the homeless population. Although individuals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent make up only 2.5% of the Australian population, they make up 25% of the homeless population. The time between 2006 and 2011 also saw a 23% increase in the use of homelessness services.

Reasons For Homelessness

Why does Australia experience such significant levels of homelessness? It occurs for a number of reasons and depends on each individual’s personal experience. Some of the most commonly cited reasons include: addiction, poverty, debt, disability, unemployment, release from the prison system, turning 18 in the foster care system, having refugee status, and being kicked out of previous home. According to data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 25% of individuals are homeless due to family or domestic violence. The statistics go on to include: financial problems (15%), unsafe or inadequate housing (10%), relationship or family instability (around 6%), and expensive housing (around 5%).

Another factor that may have contributed to the increased occurrence of homelessness in Australia is deinstitutionalization. During the 1980s, the government implemented replacing large, long-stay residences and psychiatric hospitals with more community-oriented mental health services and general community housing. Unfortunately, this plan left many individuals without homes as they were unable to adjust to community living and unable to access health care.

Homelessness In Young Individuals

Almost 50% of Australia’s homeless population is under 25 years of age (this includes babies, children, adolescents, and young adults). This trend began to develop in the middle of the 1970s, when those experiencing homelessness were most likely to be middle-aged and older men. During this time, unemployment rates began to rise in younger generations. This issue combined with insufficient unemployment benefits, increasing inflation, and higher housing costs to create the ever increasing instance of youth homelessness. Another commonly cited factor resulting in youth homelessness is relationship instability and family conflict.

One of the most common forms of homelessness in older youth is couch-surfing. This is the term used to describe staying with a network of friends.

In response to the increasing number of youth living in homelessness, a number of youth refuges and shelters began to appear in the late 1970s. The community response was particularly broad in New South Wales, where a number of temporary and semi-independent housing programs began to open. These include: Taldumande Youth Services, Detour House, and Cartakers Cottage. These nonprofits are organized under one body, called the Youth Refuge Action Group. This organization works to represent youth living in homelessness to the government and advocates for policy changes, youth services, health outreach, and increased research and development.

Cost Of Homelessness

Estimates suggest that the homelessness of a single individual costs the Australian government approximately $30,000 annually. Other estimates are as high as $5.5 million over an individual’s life in homelessness. This is when legal, health, and custodial services are included in the estimate. One homeless person may require more police service, juvenile justice services (if underage), legal aid, welfare, and health services than an individual with adequate and permanent housing. The study with this particular estimated cost found that the majority of homelessness costs is in corrective, police, and court services.

The Government’s Attempts To Fight Homelessness In Australia

In response to the growing social issue of homelessness and the cost to the public, the Australian government has implemented several programs over the years. A few of these programs were created in 2008 under the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. These include: The Road Home and The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness.

The Road Home has 3 primary objectives aimed at reducing homelessness: early intervention services, implementation of more integrative and responsive services, and quick action to get people through the homelessness outreach system and into adequate housing. Its principal goal is to reduce homelessness in Australia by 50% by the year 2020.

The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness was created to give power to the Commonwealth Government to administer public monies to services aimed at ending homelessness. It has a budget of around $250 million annually, which is allocated to approximately 800 programs throughout the country. The Australian government voted to extend the agreement by another year. Its funding is now secure through 2017.

The National Affordable Housing Agreement was enacted by the Council of Australian Governments in order to make housing more affordable and to decrease homelessness in the country. The Agreement works to accomplish this by providing housing assistance to participants of the rental housing market, supporting people at risk of homelessness, and offering home buying assistance. It also coordinates integration of housing, health, human, and disability services to make more efficient use of public resources.


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