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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

homeless « Previous | |Next »
April 8, 2008

Leak captures the historical shift quite well. For all the security connections to NATO around Afghanistan Australia is really a part of Asia not Europe. This shift does not make Australia homeless, as the Sydney conservative Anglo-Britons claimed in opposing Paul Keating's Asia Pacific Rim engagement in the early 1990s.

It is China that has enabled Australia's ten years of economic growth, and India will continue to fuel this growth. Britain represents the past as Asia is where Australia's future lies. Out home is the Indian/Pacific:

Queen.jpg Bill Leak

And yet, despite the long boom, each night in Australia, around 100,000 people are homeless. Some are “couch-surfing”, some are accommodated in the homelessness service system, and others sleep rough. This sort of homeless does not excite the white picket fence conservatives much, as they tend to represent homeless people as losers, (family breakdown) despite their rhetoric about the family being the bedrock of a market society.

This Way Forward report states that:

Almost as many women as men experience homelessness. One of the largest causes of women’s homelessness is domestic violence. One in five people who used a homeless service last year was a women escaping domestic violence. Half of all people who are homeless are under 25. Many of these are young people running away from homes characterised by violence, substance abuse and poverty. Nationwide, one in every 57 girls aged 15-19 used a homeless service last year.

Family breakup is a key cause. Many people in society write off the homeless ---and street kids--- as scum and welfare parasites but often they are far more victims than perpetrators.

So there needs to be some form of intervention to try and prevent the breakup; intervention in the form of counseling or mediation. The core reason why welfare services for the homeless have failed to keep pace with growing demand at a time when Australia has never been more prosperous is because the Commonwealth has cut its investment in public housing the states and territories have declined to make up the deficit; and funding for services targeted specifically at the homeless, such as the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program, has remained piteously small and susceptible to inflationary erosion. That underfunding has meant most of these homelessness programs are small scale and ad hoc in their outlook and strategy.

Thus Reconnect, a larger program targeted at homeless young people, or those at risk of homelessness, cost the Commonwealth just $20million in 2006, while Home Advice, another prevention initiative aimed at helping about 400 families, cost taxpayers just $2.6 million. Even the Howard government's flagship National Homelessness Strategy, established in 1999 to develop "approaches for the prevention and reduction of homelessness and broken new ground in integrated service delivery to people who are vulnerable to homelessness" received only $10million over four years in the 2005-06 budget.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:14 AM | | Comments (15)


And yet AI and other NGO's chide us for not giving more foreign aid. More patrol boats for Indonesia, more brand new Mercedes Benz vehicles for PNG MP's. I wonder when the down and out of Australia can expect to see Australian generated taxes spent on our own destitute.

The Way Forward report states:

There is very limited consideration at present of how to build pathways out of homelessness. Access to affordable housing is an obvious element here. Funding for social housing has fallen considerably in real terms in recent years. Research has also shown that many people will return to homelessness even after accessing housing. This suggests that people need a variety of supports to address the issues that contributed to their becoming homeless to begin with, in order to leave homelessness permanently.

This is no quickfix or magic bullet. There is little point in throwing a bucket of money and hoping that it will work.

Well done Gary. Sincere congratulations.
When the topic of homelessness comes up on the net I am appalled at the lack of knowledge usually shown as to the real causes . So I post this link and this extract:

"Strategies to address domestic violence -THE SINGLE LARGEST CAUSE OF HOMELESSNESS and the most common reason women and children become homeless."

and commenters usually ignore both and continue on regardless.
There is, and has been for a long time, millenia probably but exacerbated in the last decade, a denial of the violence women undergo in society.
Fundamental misogyny.
There is a conference on in Adelaide next week which will touch on domestic violence and related issues, I predict it will receive minimal, if any, publicity. Mention will probably be made that the homelessness of women and children, as a result of DV, is directly and predictably caused by deliberate government policy [state and federal] and that the policy makers were clearly, emphatically and frequently warned that such would be the result of their policies.
But to no avail.
Thank you for your awareness.

Oh, ps, the change in federal government does not, at this stage, seem to offer any grounds for optimism.

yes there are a lot of homeless in Australia and it is appalling.
I think we need to separate them in groups. first those that choose to be and those have it chosen for them. Also we need change our view of what a home is. A tent and a car is a home.Squatting too is a home.
People must remember that people with mental,alcohol,drug problems or other social idiosyncrasies often have problems living in shared houses and lack funds or the ability to hold a flat together or even a room in a boarding house.
A good place to start is by helping those that are victims of recent abuse and work you way down the ladder.

Domestic violence is also the top reason teenagers run away and end up homeless either deliberately or accidentally. Often they'll be leaving after mum has gone back to dad for the umpteenth time because there was nowhere else to go.

When homelessness becomes a way of life people find it very difficult to adjust to having a roof over their heads again.

"So there needs to be some form of intervention to try and prevent the breakup; intervention in the form of counseling or mediation."

I disagree. That was the Howard version of keeping families together. I'd argue that where domestic violence is the problem the first priority should be getting the victims, whoever they are, somewhere safe. Either that or remove the perpetrator. It's an accommodation problem first, mediation later. The solution needs to kick in long before homelessness becomes a habit.

re your comment ' I'd argue that where domestic violence is the problem the first priority should be getting the victims, whoever they are, somewhere safe'. Yes. The 'Way Forward' paper quoted in the post says that one 'in five people who used a homeless service last year was a women escaping domestic violence.'

What about the other 4 out of 5 people who used a homeless service. Who are they? Kids? Was their leaving home caused by substance abuse? Poverty? Do you know? What do we do there?

I live in the inner city in Adelaide and walk the dogs in the Adelaide parklands. I see a lot of homeless people. The majority are teenagers. The shortage of emergency accommodation means that, every night, about 10,000 homeless children and about 14,000 homeless adults are sleeping rough. It is entirely unacceptable for a country as wealthy as Australia.

I agree with you about domestic violence. But not all family conflict and breakdown is about domestic violence. Poverty is one example. People are living on the banks of the banks of the Murray River in the Riverland because they are homeless and there is a lack of emergency housing in this region.

Those programs aimed at preventing or mitigating the family conflicts and breakdowns that cause kids to leave home, could be revived with an infusion of cash and commitment.

However, there is a spatial dimension to poverty and family breakdown. Concentrations of the unemployed do not necessarily come about because of the deficiencies or failings of individuals. The interactions between where people live and the wider metropolitan system, including the operation of local labour markets, are important, since the unemployed and other marginalised workers cannot get jobs if there are none available within reasonable distance of their homes.In many areas of our cities there are employment wastelands rather than employment heartlands.

There's no single or main cause for homelessness which makes finding solutions very difficult. As Les pointed out, some are homeless because they choose to be. There are problems with just providing accommodation when the mentally ill, poor, drug addicted, victims of domestic violence, runaway teens, elderly and just housing shortage fallout are all thrown in together. Each of those examples have different problems and different requirements.

Gary raised the spatial dimension, which goes some way to finding solutions because some problems are concentrated in particular areas. But where homelessness itself is concentrated the problems get more complex.

We simply need more of everything. More womens shelters, more youth centres with accommodation, more counselling services, way, way better management of mental health/illness, more public housing, everything. They've all been in short supply for a long time and community based care didn't make things any better.

Yes you are right we need more of everything. And given the cost of everything rising I can see that more and more people will be sleeping rough.
I completely doubt that the numbers can be decreased under these circumstances.
As I pointed out the only way that this government or any other will lower the homeless rate is by changing the definition of homeless. And then they will congratulate themselves.

"the only way that this government or any other will lower the homeless rate is by changing the definition of homeless"

Nothing like healthy cynicism. 'If you have entered a building sometime in the past fortnight you no longer count as homeless'.

Thinking about what Gary says about family conflict and breakdown, we might be better off changing the definition of family. It's an old argument that deserves more attention than it gets. Young homeless people commonly refer to their homeless friends as family. For them, being separated from the homeless community is as hard as being separated from family for homed people.

Homed? Homeful? We take the idea of home so much for granted we don't even have a vocabulary for it.

Does anybody know how our percentage of homeless compares to other countries?

I am thinking that to have a population that is 99.5% unhomeless is a good thing.
See Lyn! I'm not a cynic.

This article by Sascha Ettinger-Epstein in the SMH says that kids as young as 12 are turned away from underresourced services, and routinely spend nights trawling through parks, squats and abandoned buildings, mingling in food-van queues exposed to the elements and myriad dangers.She adds:

Many do themselves irreparable physical and psychological damage when they spiral into chronic drug addiction and make themselves vulnerable to street predators and terrible situations in order to get drugs. They rub off on each other badly too, especially at such an impressionable age. Girls who have never even smoked a cigarette can descend into heavy injecting of drugs within a few months of bad influence. The financial burden of an expensive drug habit can eventually necessitate prostitution.

She adds that the downhill slide can be rapid, so it is imperative to act quickly and whisk these kids to safety or intervene in their lives as early as possible.
Probably the most important issue to tackle is the intergenerational cycle of poverty and dysfunction which perpetuates and intensifies with every baby born.


As much as it no doubt kills you, it was Howard who cemented Australia's strategic interests in the Pacific Rim and away from Europe.

The largest cause of homelessness in Australia is "care in the community" mental health policies.