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Housing Arrangements: Homelessness
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).
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.
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.
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%).
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
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%).
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
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.
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.