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homeless in Australia « Previous | |Next »
January 11, 2010

There are around 100,000 people defined as homeless, given an increasing population and high levels of family breakdown, substance abuse and mental illness, and Australia's dire shortage of cheap rental.

Homelesness is particularly noticeable in the capital cities and many inner-city Australians have become habituated to the homeless, even though we know that the category homelessness goes beyond beyond rough sleepers and just a lack of housing.

09December13_visual diary_064.jpg Gary Sauer-Thompson, homeless in Adelaide, South Australia, 2009

Historically people have thought about homelessness as being an issue for single men - the stereotypical view is a man with an alcohol or addiction problem. The reality is that there is a whole other group of homeless people emerging that include families and teenagers.

The rate of homelessness in the inner city areas of capital cities is generally higher than in their middle and outer suburbs in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra with the most common cause being family breakdown. Difficult economic conditions as a result of the global financial crisis and a tight housing market have made circumstances particularly hard for some families, with more turning to support services for assistance (Supported Accommodation Assistance Program or SAAP). They have been evicted for rent arrears, defaulted on mortgage payments or lost a job.

So it is not just about people sleeping on a park bench. It also includes people living in homelessness services, staying temporarily with family or friends, or living in unsafe situations (such as women and children experiencing domestic violence).

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:13 AM | | Comments (14)


The single largest cause of homelessness in Australia is the plight of women and children escaping domestic violence.

Check out the media releases of HA, the peak group operating in the field, which offer more disturbing facts and detail usually overlooked by the media.

Try this one for starters:

This chap looks like one of the growing number of semi-homed workers that came with the digital world. Sleeping rough sometimes and in rooming houses and cheap places when they get work. They are semi-skilled warehouse/factory type workers/drivers and such that work for these labour hire companies. They have a prepaid phone and a bank account and that is all they need. It isnt an ideal life but it is a carefree one I guess.

the barred or grilled place behind the body lying on the ground s a children's detention centre. The guy was probably late in returning and was shut out for the night.

Thanks for the links. I see that there is a reference to The Road Home Homelessness White Paper, in the Homeless Australia website. I haven't read it, so I don't know what new services and projects have been developed. I'll have a look and get back.

Presumably, the lack of public housing makes things worse in that many homeless people wait years for public housing. A consequence of neo-liberalism?

The biggest problem is denialism.
[Does that ring a bell?]

Our entire society, governments, media and religion based 'charities'in particular, like to deny that domestic violence, child sexual abuse [there is a direct causal relationship there] exist to the extent that they do and that admitting the causes would result in action having to be taken.
Its far easier to mumble platitudes and ignore the principal cause of homelessness.
If you look at the "Australian" article by Simon someone[at the HA home page]about the state of homelessness policy in Oz you will see that DV/CSA don't rate a mention. Media articles rarely do. The usual suspects are trotted out, the mentally troubled, the alcoholic, valid in themselves of course but only a part of the picture.

There is chronic ignorance about homelessness which in itself is only one symptom of societal problems.

The issue of homelessness is just one symptom of a multifaceted hydra that causes all sorts of problems in our society.
I mentioned in a comment on crime back a few days ago that there are major areas of crime virtually ignored despite the various laura norder campaigns. Huge numbers of incidents of DV/CSA/sexual assault are not even reported and only a tiny fraction of such progress through the multiple levels of the law.
Poverty in this country is increasing, about 1 in 8 people live in poverty according to a parliamentary report of 2006. An alarming statistic, however arrived at, that is greeted with silence.
Yet our media will happily go into paroxysms of hysteria over a faked e-mail or a boat containing a handful of people.
Meanwhile laws get passed that knowingly and deliberately create poverty and homelessness, in this specific example I am referring to the welfare to work/changes in Single Parent Benefit laws that were passed by the Howard government up to and as late as 2007. At the same time the whole emphasis of family law and all the agencies, mostly private and mostly religious based, that operate the system outside the Family Court changed to one where the rights of children were specifically downgraded.
Instead of a whole society holistic approach we have one where left hands and right hands both muttering platitudes [sorry for the hopelessly confused metaphor] are operating against each other, refusing to look at primary causes, even specifically denying such via de-gendered language which became the rage a few years ago and starved of funding.

Its a mess.

The current govt. has made some small progress albeit piecemeal, uncordinated and stumbling in nature.
There is a major review of womens' services and govt. approaches to violence currently underway and, if one is optimistic by nature, it can be seen to have some potential for improvement. It was based on a major report
"Time for Action" released March 2009.
But really the only hope for the future is if we, as a society, stop denying the existence of the major problems, briefly and superficially mentioned above.

It has always intrigued me where people are homeless. Major cities obviously have the bulk of homeless for reasons you descibe. In my past conversations with homeless (as I once had a reason to do so)I discovered that a large percentage didnt come from the towns that they become homeless in. I also found that a very large percentage had problems with consistant rational thinking and planning if at all.
I am not sure that one can blame a system always.

though homelessness is mostly centred in the inner city of the capital cities The Australian Health and Welfare Institute 2009 Report says that it is also on the rise in the regions:

Capital cities, however, are not the only areas affected by homelessness. [there are] high rates of homelessness occurring in regional and remote areas, particularly in the northern and western areas of Australia. Interestingly, the homelessness rate in the capital cities was generally lower than in many of the regional and remote areas of their corresponding state or territory.

that Report works with the following definitions of homelessness:
• primary homelessness—people without conventional accommodation, such as people
living on the street, in parks, under bridges, in derelict buildings, improvised dwellings etc.
• secondary homelessness—people moving between various forms of temporary shelter
including staying with friends, emergency accommodation, youth refuges, hostels and
boarding houses
• tertiary homelessness—people living in single rooms in private boarding houses, withouttheir own bathroom, kitchen or security of tenure.
In addition to there is the
• marginally housed—people in housing situations close to the minimum standard (for
example marginal residents of caravan parks).

the ABC reports that domestic violence is the biggest cause of health problems among young and middle aged women; and that domestic violence is driving more children into homelessness.

Do you mean that it is the commercial media that denies that domestic violence is at the heart of the problem of homelessness?

The primary homeless present as the most difficult to help. They tend to have issues that prevent them from living in anything but managed housing and even then find it difficult.
Most are happy to be left where they are near the soup kitchens and help groups.

According to the government's key policy document, the 2008 White Paper The Road Home says that about 85 per cent of the 100,000 homeless are not actually sleeping outdoors. Instead, they are on the edge, often marginalised and, in effect, camping in temporary or substandard accommodation.

David Eldridge from the Salvation Army' says that single men aged 25-45 who are chronically homeless are the biggest challenge, because most have mental health problems that make it hard for them to live in the housing on offer. The big problem is mental illness. The white paper says that 36 per cent of people looking for emergency shelter are either substance abusers, mentally ill, or both.

The most pressing issues is to develop diverse styles of accommodation suitable for the 75 per cent of single homeless people who often need extensive support services.

re your comment The most pressing issues is to develop diverse styles of accommodation suitable for the 75 per cent of single homeless people who often need extensive support services."

One way that addresses this is the Common Ground concept, pioneered in New York offers quality, well-located accommodation with on-site support and case management for tenants, who must pay rent.

The projects work on the basis that homeless people should not be stigmatised but be given the opportunity to be part of a functioning community. Half the rooms in each project are rented not to the homeless but to tenants who earn less than $30,000 a year--eg., students and some artists on low incomes. Such a blend is essential in order to avoid a ghetto-like environment.

Sue Crafter, the director of Common Ground Adelaide, says that:

When they move in they often are euphoric, but they need support,The euphoria only lasts so long but if you can use the energy to help people work to a deeper transformation [it can work].This can be about something as simple as helping people attend a course, or getting tenants involved in tasks such as taking out the garbage

Roseanne Haggerty, from Common Ground in New York, was a thinker in residence in Adelaide in 2005-6. Adelaide will have two apartments this year.

you say that tha the delivery of services for the homeless is a mess and that the Rudd Govt. has made some small progress albeit piecemeal, uncordinated and stumbling in nature.

David Cappo, commissioner for social inclusion in South Australia concurs. He says that We sorely lack the proper integration of services, particularly mental health, housing, drug and alcohol, that are available to those in long-term sustainable accommodation.

He adds that Common Ground project in Adelaide is an excellent example of that integration:

One of the key strengths of Common Ground is the on-site delivery of services essential to the residents' stability and wellbeing, such as drug and alcohol counselling. In addition, the model aims to integrate tenants with their community through employment, training and community activities. The model works for young and old and, significantly, in South Australia we are tailoring it so it can work for families.

He admits that this model is not cheap and nor is it a Band-Aid solution.

The Projects only work if there is a "selection process" that goes with it. As our system of housing commision does. Getting the right mix of people all living together in small boxes that are easily and cheaply managed is the only way it works to benefit the most.

In regards to the homeless due to domestic violence. Yes it happens a lot. But part of being able to manage a home is managing relationships inside the home.