On any given night in Australia 1 in 200 people are homeless. There are currently 105,237 people who are homeless in this country, that’s 49 out of every 100,00 people or 0.5% of the population. For the record, homeless people may not just be those who are sleeping rough on the street or in parks, they might move between temporary shelter; couch surfing, emergency accommodation, refuges and hostels, or they might live in boarding houses without their own bathroom or kitchen and without security of tenure.1
According to the 2011 ABS Census of Population and Housing, 94% of people who are experiencing homelessness are not on the streets. Homelessness Australia identifies four key groups who are often overlooked and undercounted when it comes to adding up the total homeless population:
- Women and children homeless because of domestic and family violence
- The old and young staying with other households
- People in housing crisis
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups1
There are three additional groups who form part of the ‘hidden homeless’ in Australia. If you feel we’ve overlooked any vulnerable groups who are at risk of homelessness, please let us know by leaving your comments below.
Homelessness and housing stress is regularly raised as a concern for refugee and humanitarian entrants in the early stages of settlement in Australia. According to a 2009 survey 78% of asylum seekers on the Asylum Seekers Assistance Scheme (ASAS) in Victoria met the government definition of homelessness.2
The majority of asylum seekers in Australia live lawfully in the community on bridging visas while they wait for their asylum claims to be resolved. More than half of these asylum seekers have no access to a financial safety net.3 Many have no form of family or community support and many move constantly in and out of homelessness. Refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to homelessness due to language, literacy and cultural barriers, difficulty accessing services and very often being discouraged by their own communities from relying on ‘welfare’ or ‘handouts’.4
People Living with a Disability
People living with a disability are vulnerable to homelessness and housing stress due to relatively low incomes, limited engagement with the labour market and limited housing options. Different disabilities – including physical, sensory and intellectual disability – predispose individuals to different levels of homelessness risk. Accessing appropriate housing is a significant issue for people living with disability and many have long residential histories of poor quality, unsafe, unaffordable and insecure housing. For many, their housing situation contributes to ongoing stress and detrimental affects on their health Informal networks of family and friends can provide emotional support, community connection and practical assistance however, many people living with a disability lack this support. 5
People Living with Mental Illness
Living with a mental illness is a major risk factor for homelessness. The link between economic and social disadvantage, mental illness and homelessness is clear. People with mental illness can become homeless when their symptoms worsen or when they temporarily leave home because they require in-patient treatment. Other people might experience homelessness when they become unwell and their relationships breakdown or if they become estranged from their family or support network. Young people must be a key target group of youth homelessness and mental health coordination. 75% of people with mental illness first exhibit symptoms under the age of 25 and 50% of homelessness service users in 2011 were under 25 years old.6
Whatever the reason for homelessness or housing stress, there is an urgent and pressing need for increased flexible affordable and secure housing opportunities. People who are living with mental illness or disability, experiencing domestic violence, or awaiting resolution of their refugee status need access to affordable housing in Australia.
- Homelessness includes rough sleeping as well as people staying in temporary, unstable or substandard accommodation.
- Homelessness can affect anyone.
- Rising number of children, families and older people are experiencing homelessness
- Indigenous people are overrepresented in the homeless population. Overcrowding is common in Indigenous housing.
- The ‘hidden homeless’ include refugees and asylum seekers, people living with a disability and people living with mental illness.
Anywhere but a Bed A Facebook awareness raising event
Shelter National Advocacy site for Homelessness
1. Homelessness Australia website
2. Foyster, G. 13 August 2010 www.eurekastreet.com.au
3. Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Annual Report 2008–09.
Photos sourced from Flickr: Davco9200 and sensesmaybenumbed