Homelessness poses a widespread problem in Australia, impacting people from various age groups and backgrounds. Despite its pervasiveness, the complete impact of homelessness often goes unnoticed within our communities. To shed light on this matter, we will explore some significant statistics and causes related to homelessness in Australia.

Understanding Homelessness

As per the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), homelessness is defined as a situation in which a person lacks suitable accommodation options and lacks control and access to space for social interactions. A home signifies more than just a physical structure with walls and a roof; it is a place where individuals can experience safety and security. Unfortunately, numerous individuals in Australia find themselves residing in temporary accommodations like refuges, crisis centers, or motels, which lack the stability and security associated with a home.

In reality, most people experiencing homelessness in Australia remain hidden from public view. They may seek temporary shelter in vehicles, rely on couch surfing, or spend nights on public transportation. While these individuals may have some form of shelter, they lack a permanent place to call home, making them the “hidden homeless.”

It is important to note that only around 6% of Australia’s homeless population comprises “rough sleepers,” referring to those who sleep on the streets. The majority of individuals experiencing homelessness fall into the hidden homeless category. On any given night, over 122,000 people in Australia experience homelessness.

Causes of Homelessness

Homelessness can stem from unforeseen life circumstances beyond an individual’s control. Those lacking robust support systems or facing financial, emotional, or physical strains are more susceptible to losing their homes.

In Australia, domestic and family violence (DFV) stands as one of the primary catalysts for homelessness. Unfortunately, many individuals, including children, women, and men, have experienced or witnessed abusive and violent behaviors within their households. DFV extends beyond physical violence and encompasses controlling, humiliating, or intimidating actions.

Approximately one in seven homeless individuals in Australia is over the age of 55. Last year, individuals aged 15-24 accounted for 19% of those who sought assistance from specialist homelessness services. Among this age group, there were nearly twice as many females (66%) seeking help as there were males (34%). Furthermore, more than 17,600 children under the age of 12 are affected by homelessness.

When victims/survivors decide to leave a violent household, they often have to abandon their homes and belongings. After years of control and abuse, their ability to find alternative housing is severely constrained. More than 72,900 people sought assistance from specialized homelessness services last year due to domestic and family violence. Out of the people seeking help from these services in 2021-22, 39% (or 108,000) reported experiencing domestic and family violence. Therefore, addressing domestic and family violence is crucial in combating homelessness.

Moreover, homelessness among older individuals is a growing issue in Australia, especially considering the aging population and the rising cost of homeownership. Factors such as domestic violence, relationship breakdowns, financial difficulties, and limited retirement savings can render older people more vulnerable to homelessness. In the 2021 census, one in seven homeless individuals were aged 55 and over.

For young people, homelessness often arises due to unstable home environments rather than being a choice. Circumstances such as neglect, family breakdowns, substance abuse, poor living conditions, unemployment, the death of a guardian or loved one, or a lack of support when leaving state care can hinder their ability to maintain housing and thrive in adulthood.

Recent reports have underscored the gravity of the homelessness crisis in Australia. A survey conducted by Mission Australia revealed that four in ten individuals seeking assistance from the organization in the past three years were employed but unable to afford the soaring rents.

Between January 2020 and December 2022, there was a 26% increase in the demand for homelessness services, with over 3,500 people who were already homeless seeking help.

The report also highlighted that only one-third of those experiencing homelessness were able to secure long-term housing, while the rest had to settle for short-term or emergency accommodations due to the limited availability of options. This situation is exacerbated by skyrocketing rents, low wages, inadequate income support, and a severe shortage of social and affordable housing, turning homelessness into a national emergency.

Sharon Callister, the chief executive of Mission Australia, emphasized the urgent need for comprehensive and proactive measures to prevent and end homelessness in the country. She called for increased investment in homelessness prevention, the construction of one million social and affordable homes over the next two decades, financial assistance for private renters, and raising income support payments above the poverty line.

To address these pressing issues, Callister urged the government to pass the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill, which would allocate funds toward housing initiatives. However, she emphasized that further improvements and investment are necessary to effectively combat homelessness.

As individuals, we can contribute to ending homelessness by supporting organizations like Mission Australia through donations, volunteering, and advocating for policy changes. By amplifying the voices of those affected by homelessness and promoting awareness and empathy within our communities, we can break down the barriers that perpetuate this issue.

In conclusion, homelessness is a pressing issue that affects individuals of all ages and backgrounds in Australia. It is crucial to understand the true scope of homelessness, challenge misconceptions, and work toward comprehensive solutions. With concerted efforts and a commitment to social justice, we can create a society where everyone has a place to call home. It is important to recognize that homelessness is not just a personal issue but a societal concern that requires collective action and support.

Mission Australia
The Guardian