What Is Homelessness?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides the definition of a homeless person is:
“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.”
How Does Australia Compare To Other Countries?
The figure of 1 in 200 comes from the 2011 Australian census, during which more than 105,000 people experienced homelessness. With a population of about 24 million people, that amounts to a homelessness percentage of about 0.43%, an alarming rate of homelessness compared to that of other developed nations in the world.
In contrast, the United States, has a homelessness ratio of about 0.18%. Italy has a rate of 0.08%, and Japan and South Korea have very low homelessness rates of around 0.01-0.02%. The closest comparable country is the United Kingdom, with a homelessness rate of 0.38%.
That said, it’s important to note that the definition of homelessness in Australia is very broad. For example, people who are couchsurfing with friends and relatives while not having a permanent dwelling are also considered homeless. This might be partly responsible for the country’s large homelessness figure.
Who Are The Homeless People In Australia?
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has a wealth of homelessness statistics and demographics about the nation’s less privileged. Some key figures from the 2016 census:
- 58% of homeless people were male;
- 21% of the homeless were between the ages of 25 and 34 years;
- 20% of homeless people were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, a disproportionate figure given that they represent only 3% of the population.
In addition, there are also statistics about how many people live in certain kinds of shelter that would qualify as homeless. Some important highlights include:
- 8,200, or 7% of homeless, were rough sleepers, or “Persons living in improvised dwellings, tents, or sleeping out.”
- 21,235, or 18%, were living in ‘supported housing’ designed specifically for homeless people;
- 51,088, or 44%, were staying in overcrowded homes;
Homelessness Australia has also reported that homeless children under 18 years old represent 27% of the homeless population.
What Are The Causes Of Homelessness In Australia?
Homelessness is a complex problem with many causes, including health, economic, and safety reasons – and sometimes even a combination of several different causes. These causes may also vary depending on the demographic.
For example, according to Homelessness NSW, one major cause of homelessness for women is domestic violence – which is also a big contributor to youth homelessness.
Another major cause is the chronic lack of affordable rental housing that’s been plaguing the country. A 2018 study by Anglicare Australia showed that only three out of 67,000 surveyed rental properties could be afforded by a single person!
Economic exclusion, chronic unemployment, and poverty are severe economic reasons that further contribute to the homeless crisis. There are also support-related issues – those exiting state care and leaving prison are often left to fend for themselves and end up on the streets.
How Does Homelessness Impact People In Australia?
Homelessness can lead to a terrible cycle of negative effects.
Homeless people often lack a sense of security and stability, which causes them to suffer from depression and other mental health problems, and even turn to substance abuse. They also lack proper access to dental healthcare and general hygiene, leading to greater-than-average risk of illness, disability, and even death. Even little things we take for granted like having a valid identification are often unavailable to homeless people.
These things can make it difficult for homeless people to improve their living conditions. They often have difficulty landing a stable job, which leads to further financial difficulty, and in turn leads to continued homelessness in many cases.
How Does Homelessness Vary Across Different Parts Of Australia?
Homelessness varies from state to state. For example, Victoria and ACT have similar homelessness rates of 41.9 per 50,000 and 40.2 per 50,000, respectively. Tasmania has a relatively low rate of 31.8 per 50,000, while the Northern Territory has a huge homelessness rate of 599.4 per 10,000.
How Has Homelessness Changed Over The Past Few Years?
In the 2001 census, the nation achieved a high of 50.8 homeless people per 10,000. In the 2006 census, this figure fell to 45.2 per 10,000. However, the ratio has since gone up again twice – 47.6 per 10,000 in 2011, and 49.8 per 10,000 in 2016. Homelessness is on the rise in the country, and this may be because of severe overcrowding of homes in recent years.
How Does The Government Support Homeless People?
The Australian Government has several agencies and initiatives in place that support homeless people, or help prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place.
In 2018, the Department of Social Services created the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement to improve accountability and develop strategies for supporting homelessness. These include services to help homeless people find accommodation and reconnect with their families, and support those who have exited state care and other institutions.
The government set aside more than $1.5-billion for the Agreement, including $78-million to provide sanctuary for women and minors who have fled domestic violence, and $60-million in grants to help organisations provide emergency accommodation.
How Can You Help Australia’s Homeless?
Our less-fortunate brethren don’t have to be alone in their struggles, but knowing exactly how to help them may seem like a daunting task.
Thankfully, several charitable non-government organisations have risen up to the task and serve the homeless population of Australia. Many of these are headquartered in cities with large homeless concerns. Here are some of the organisations and charities you need to know about, and how you can contribute to their causes.
Melbourne City Mission
As its name suggests, Melbourne City Mission is based in Melbourne, but it extends its reach to the entirety of the state of Victoria. The organisation aims to help the state’s homeless people, particularly children and the youth.
They offer emergency accommodation services, long and short-term accommodation for homeless youths, and provide a holistic array of services and programs designed to “support young people to meet their physical, emotional and social needs and to develop pathways out of homelessness.” The organisation allows you to donate money, place them in your Will, or host fundraisers. You can also volunteer at their events and centres.
Sydney Homeless Connect
Sydney Homeless Connect helps the homeless people of Sydney connect with care providers and professionals who can help pull them out of their struggles. They host an annual event at Sydney Town Hall where anyone can walk in and get connected with these providers.
The organisation encourages anyone interested to pledge donations of money and used clothing, offer to teach workshops, volunteer at homeless shelters or soup kitchens, and perform other acts of kindness towards the homeless. You can also donate directly to the organisation right on their website.
Home For Good
Home For Good is based in Brisbane, and provides services for “individuals and families including information, support, advocacy, health, recreational, and employment services.” The organisation supports people in all sorts of homeless situations, including rough sleepers, couchsurfers, and those in crisis.
You can donate to the program, or volunteer at its parent organisation, Micah Projects.
Perth Homeless Support Group Inc
Perth Homeless Support Group Inc aims to support Perth’s homeless population by donating care packages filled with essentials, such as soap, shampoo, tinned food, and sleeping bags. You can help the group by donating directly to their bank account, offering vouchers and gift cards that can be donated to the organisation’s beneficiaries, or donating items that they use in their care packages. You can find out more donating at their website.
Adelaide Zero Project
The Adelaide Zero Project has a simple but powerful goal: “to achieve Zero Functional Homelessness in the Adelaide CBD, by the end of 2020.” To that end, it works through the Don Dunstan Foundation, coordinating with over 40 organisations working together to achieve this goal.
You can support the Adelaide Zero Project by donating directly to the organisation, or contacting them to discover how you can volunteer for their efforts.
Break The Cycle
Homelessness is a systemic problem that we all have to work together to solve. Every individual effort helps the whole cause, whether it’s protecting people in trouble, giving the existing homeless people a better chance, or preventing at-risk individuals from becoming homeless in the first place. If you want to do your part, start now and start strong!