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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
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Contents >> Housing >> Homelessness

Housing Arrangements: Homelessness

On Census Night 2001, 99,900 people were homeless, including at least 14,200 people 'sleeping rough'.


Home provides most Australians not just with shelter from the elements, but with facilities for cooking and self-care, privacy, and a secure base from which to establish routines of living. Homelessness, then, is not a straightforward concept, as it can suggest a lack in any of these areas. A broad definition of a homeless person, used in Australia, is someone who has inadequate access to safe and secure housing.(SEE ENDNOTE 1) Hence, while those 'sleeping rough' are the most publicly recognised homeless people, other groups are also of concern. These include people staying in shelters and refuges; people staying temporarily with family and friends to deal with a housing crisis; and some of those people renting in caravan parks and boarding houses. Highly transient people moving between such temporary solutions have been termed 'the hidden homeless'.(SEE ENDNOTE 2)

Homeless people are among the most marginalised people in Australia and their profile has been changing in recent years from predominantly older, lone men to include more women, youth, and families. Factors ranging from increased family breakdown to changes in the labour market have been identified as influencing these changes.(SEE ENDNOTE 3)

A SNAPSHOT OF HOMELESSNESS ...HOW MANY?

On census night 2001, an estimated 14,200 people were in the most extreme situation - 'sleeping rough' (i.e. in improvised dwellings or tents, or in streets, parks, cars or derelict buildings). A similar number of people (14,300) were staying in emergency or transitional housing, principally in the network of refuges or shelters in the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP). A further, large group were defined as homeless because they were staying with another household and had no usual residence (48,600). Finally, 22,900 people living in boarding houses were included in the homeless count. In total, 99,900 people were estimated to be homeless on census night 2001. For every 10,000 people in Australia in 2001, there were 53 homeless people. This was a slight decline from the estimate of 59 for 1996 (although this was largely due to a change in the classification of dwellings in Indigenous communities).(SEE ENDNOTE 4)


HOMELESS AND MARGINALLY HOUSED PEOPLE - CENSUS NIGHT 2001
GRAPH - HOMELESS AND MARGINALLY HOUSED PEOPLE - CENSUS NIGHT 2001


In 2001, a further group of concern were identified from census data: 22,900 people living in caravan parks who were 'marginally housed'. These people did not have anyone employed full-time in their household, and did not own their caravan. They made up 16% of all people in caravan parks on census night. The wellbeing of marginal caravan park residents has been a focus of concern since the 1970s (see Australian Social Trends 2000, Caravan park residents, pp. 179-183).

HOMELESSNESS IN AUSTRALIA

This article summarises a report on Homelessness by Chris Chamberlain and David MacKenzie. This report is part of the Australian Census Analytic Program (ACAP) and uses data from the Census of Population and Housing, modified with administrative and survey data, to estimate the number of homeless persons in 2001.(SEE ENDNOTE 4)

Homelessness in contemporary Australia is broadly defined by Chamberlain and MacKenzie, as a series of situations below a minimum community standard of a small rented flat with separate bathroom and kitchen and an element of security of tenure. They define three levels of homelessness:

Sleeping rough (Primary homeless) refers to people without conventional accommodation, such as people living in improvised dwellings, on the streets, sleeping in parks, squatting in derelict buildings, or using cars or railway carriages for temporary shelter.

Stop-gap housing (Secondary homeless) refers to people who move frequently from one form of temporary shelter to another. Included are: people using emergency or transitional accommodation such as a refuge or a shelter within the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP); people residing temporarily with other households who have no accommodation of their own; and those using boarding houses on a short-term basis.

Boarding house residents (Tertiary homeless) refers to people who live in boarding houses on a medium to long-term basis.

They also identify an additional group of interest:

Marginal residents of caravan parks refers to people who have homes but are renting accommodation in a caravan park apparently from financial necessity rather than as a lifestyle choice and who seem likely to have difficulty accessing more mainstream housing.

...STATE DIFFERENCES

As might be expected, New South Wales, with the largest population of any state or territory, also had the highest numbers of homeless people on census night (26,700 people). However, relative to the size of its population, the Northern Territory had the most homeless people of any state or territory, by a large margin. There were 288 homeless people per 10,000 population in the Northern Territory. Two reasons which may contribute to the higher rate in the Northern Territory are the proportionally higher Indigenous population (many of whom live in remote areas) and a relative lack of inexpensive accommodation. In Queensland and Western Australia, there were 70 and 64 homeless people per 10,000 population respectively, considerably fewer than the Northern Territory but higher than the southern states and the Australian Capital Territory where rates ranged from 40 to 52 homeless people per 10,000 population.


HOMELESS PEOPLE BY STATE - 2001

rate per 10,000
State or territory
no.
population

New South Wales
26,676
42.2
Victoria
20,305
43.6
Queensland
24,569
69.8
South Australia
7,586
51.6
Western Australia
11,697
64.0
Tasmania
2,415
52.4
Northern Territory
5,423
288.3
Australian
Capital Territory
1,229
39.6
Australia
99,900
53.2

Source: Chamberlain, C and MacKenzie, D 2003, Australian Census Analytic Program: Counting the Homeless, (ABS cat. no. 2050.0).


THE NATIONAL HOMELESSNESS STRATEGY

Public discussions towards a National Homelessness Strategy were initiated in 2000
by the Department of Family and Community Services. The themes of the National Homelessness Strategy are:
  • prevention
  • early intervention
  • working together
  • crisis transition and support.

The strategy re-affirms the role of the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) in assisting people in crisis and also acknowledges the important role that a broad range of other policies, programs and agencies play in preventing and addressing homelessness.(SEE ENDNOTE 3)

Factors influencing homelessness

The National Homelessness Strategy identifies several factors which have been changing the nature of homelessness in recent years:
  • changes to family formation including increased family breakdowns
  • deinstitutionalisation of people with psychiatric illness and physical and intellectual disabilities
  • increases in the incidence of women and children fleeing domestic violence
  • a decrease in rooming house and other low cost accommodation
  • shifts in the pattern of substance abuse and the availability of illicit drugs
  • changes to the structure of the labour market so that there are fewer jobs for low-skilled people.

...DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS

Close to half of the 99,900 homeless people were less than 25 years of age (46%), with those aged 12-18 years a prominent group (26% of all homeless people). There were somewhat more homeless males than females (58% compared with 42%). In age groups over 34 years, men made up around two-thirds of homeless people. There were more males than females in every segment of the homeless population except those in supported accommodation, where males made up 47% (supported accommodation agencies include many refuges for women escaping domestic violence). Most notable was the predominance of males in boarding houses (72%) and there were also more males than females sleeping rough (61%) and staying with friends or relatives (53%).

While 2% of the population identified as Indigenous at the 2001 census, 9% of homeless people were Indigenous. Indigenous people made up 19% of those sleeping rough, 11% of those in supported accommodation, 7% of those in boarding houses and 3% of those staying with friends or relatives.

...LONE PEOPLE OR FAMILIES?

Of the 99,900 homeless people, 58% were lone persons. (These lone persons were not necessarily 'alone': 50% were living with another household, although it was not their usual address.) Couples without children made up 19% of homeless people while members of families with children accounted for 23%.

Lone persons ranged from 34% of people in supported accommodation to 83% of people in boarding houses. Couples were more common among those staying with another household (27%) or sleeping rough (23%) than among the other groups of homeless. People who were part of a family with children were more common among those in supported accommodation (61%), or people sleeping rough (41%) than among other groups.

DURATION OF HOMELESSNESS

Long periods spent homeless seem likely to have a more negative effect on individuals than shorter periods, and to indicate that substantial barriers exist to their obtaining housing. From the information available, Chamberlain and MacKenzie estimate broadly that, in 2001, about 60% to 70% of homeless people who were sleeping rough, in supported accommodation or who were boarding house residents, were likely to be or have been homeless for a considerable period (six months or more). This was also the case for about 50% of adults staying with other households. (These latter adults include more people who are employed and thus more likely to be able to save money towards the initial costs of renting.) Young people staying temporarily with other households are thought to be a high turnover group with many likely to return to their family.

...ECONOMIC RESOURCES

People staying with another household included more people who were employed either full-time (27%) or part-time (14%), than did either those staying in boarding houses or marginal caravan park residents. One explanation for this may be that people tend to turn first to friends or family for help whereas those in other situations may have exhausted their social as well as their financial resources. However, as with boarding house residents and marginal caravan park residents, the largest group of those staying with other households were not in the labour force (43%) and a further substantial proportion were unemployed (16%).


SELECTED HOMELESS AND MARGINALLY HOUSED PEOPLE AGED 15 YEARS AND OVER, LABOUR FORCE AND EMPLOYMENT STATUS(a) - 2001
Staying with friends and relatives (secondary homeless)
Boarding house residents (tertiary homeless)
Marginal residents of caravan parks
%
%
%

Employed full-time
27
17
. .
Employed part-time
14
9
15
Unemployed
16
14
25
Not in labour force
43
60
60
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) By definition, caravan park renters classified as marginally housed had no-one in their household in full-time employment; whereas this was not a component of the definitions of boarding house residents or those staying with other families.

Source: Chamberlain, C and MacKenzie, D 2003, Australian Census Analytic Program: Counting the Homeless, (ABS cat. no. 2050.0).


USE OF CRISIS SERVICES

Since the 1980s a diverse group of over 1,000 mainly non-government service, advocacy or self-help agencies have been brought together under a joint Commonwealth-State funding arrangement, as the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program. During 2002-03, SAAP agencies supported an estimated 97,600 clients, with an average of around 22,000 occasions of support being provided to clients on any given day. Clients might have more than one period of support, and the total number of periods was 176,300 over the year.

...AGENCIES AND THEIR TARGET CLIENTS

SAAP agencies are diverse, having developed over time to meet different needs, such as to provide safe places to sleep for chronically homeless people; places for women and children to escape domestic violence; or refuges which help prevent dangerous outcomes for teenagers who run away from home. Of total periods of support in 2002-03, more than one-fifth were provided by agencies which principally targeted women escaping domestic violence (22%), while agencies targeting young people (21%) and single men (19%) also accounted for many support periods. Agencies targeting families or single women accounted for relatively few periods of support. Close to one-third (30%) of support periods were supplied by generalist or cross-targeting agencies and of these periods, about half were to men presenting alone.


SAAP SUPPORT PERIODS(a) BY MAIN TARGET OF AGENCY AND TYPE OF SERVICE PROVIDED - 2002-03
GRAPH - SAAP SUPPORT PERIODS(a) BY MAIN TARGET OF AGENCY AND TYPE OF SERVICE PROVIDED - 2002-03



...SERVICES PROVIDED

Support provided by the agencies ranged from advice or counselling accomplished within a day to providing people with accommodation over several months. On average, clients requested seven different types of support service in each period of support. Help with accommodation was provided in 75% of support periods. As well as accommodation within SAAP this included help in obtaining other housing. Of periods of accommodation in SAAP of at least one day, 31% were for one day only and 28% were for 2-7 days. Long stays were relatively rare: 9% were for more than 3 months.

General support and advocacy was also provided in 75% of support periods. This included providing advice, information, liaison, advocacy, brokerage, or assistance with legal matters. Other basic support services such as meals, showers, laundry facilities, recreation and transport, were also commonly provided (65%).

...ACCOMMODATION OUTCOMES

Despite the diversity of clients and services, a broad aim of SAAP is to help clients to find safe and secure housing and re-establish a capacity to live independently of SAAP. Information from 2002-03 on the type of accommodation SAAP clients were in before and after being assisted shows that those in independent housing increased, from 31% before assistance to 39% after assistance. This group comprised people in private and public rentals or owner occupied dwellings.


ACCOMMODATION BEFORE AND AFTER SUPPORT IN SAAP(a) - 2002-03
GRAPH- ACCOMMODATION BEFORE AND AFTER SUPPORT IN SAAP(a) - 2002-03


The main proportional decrease was in those sleeping rough, which decreased from 9% to 3%, but people in other situations which would be classified as being homeless or marginally housed under the broad definitions did not show substantial change.

The fact that most clients appear to have exhausted their personal resources prior to seeking SAAP assistance may be a barrier to their obtaining independent housing. In 2002-03, most clients either had no income (8%) or an income from a government pension or benefit (84%) when they contacted SAAP. More than half were not in the labour force (58%), one-third were unemployed, while only 9% were employed and two-thirds of these worked part-time.

PATHWAYS TO HOMELESSNESS

People who remain homeless for longer periods may increasingly identify as a homeless person and lose other expectations. Four major pathways to homelessness - one applicable to youth and three to adults - were identified in a special study conducted in 2001.(SEE ENDNOTE 5) These were:
  • a youth pathway, characterised by a transition phase in which teenagers remain with their families but have episodes of staying away from home, usually to be with friends
  • an adult pathway of having been homeless and usually unemployed since youth
  • an adult 'housing crisis' pathway of persistent poverty and indebtedness followed by a new setback which results in the loss of accommodation and little prospect of regaining it
  • an adult pathway of domestic violence or other family break down precipitating the end of existing living arrangements.

Understanding these pathways can help develop policy responses to homelessness, in particular interventions to prevent homelessness.

ENDNOTES

1 Strategic Partners Pty Ltd 2001, Technical Forum on the Estimation of Homelessness in Australia, 11 and 12 October, 2000, Canberra, Final Report
<
www.facs.gov.au/internet/facsinternet/.nsf/aboutfacs/programs/house-estimating-homelessness.htm>, accessed 5 January 2004.
2 Mission Australia 2001, Hidden Homelessness <www.mission.com.au/cm/Resources/SocialPolicyDocs/SPR13-Hidden%20Homeless.pdf>, accessed 4 March 2004.
3 Department of Family and Community Services National Housing Strategy <www.facs.gov.au/internet/facsinternet.nsf/aboutfacs/programs/house-nhs-nav.htm>, accessed 5 January 2004.
4 Chamberlain, C and MacKenzie, D 2003, Australian Census Analytic Program: Counting the Homeless 2001, ABS cat. no. 2050.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.
5 Chamberlain, C and MacKenzie, D 2003, Homeless Careers: pathways in and out of homelessness, Counting the Homeless 2001 Project Swinburne and RMIT Universities, Melbourne.

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