Overview of Homelessness by larryp


									                            Overview of Homelessness

What is Homelessness?
There are many definitions of homelessness. The Council to Homeless Persons
defines a homeless person as someone who “is without a conventional home and lacks
the economic and social supports that a home normally affords. She/he is often cut
off from the support of relatives and friends, she/he has few independent resources
and often has no immediate means, and, in some cases, little prospect of social

A home is more than a physical structure. The attributes of home can be seen to be
security of tenure, security against threats, physical characteristics which do not
undermine health or create further disadvantage, affordability, living with people of
one‟s choice, privacy and autonomy and control. (Neil C and Fopp, R, 1994:3-4)

In order to count the numbers of people who are homeless, the homeless population is
characterised by three segments. They are:
    1. Primary homelessness: people without conventional accommodation – living
       on the streets, in deserted buildings, in cars, under bridges, in improvised
       dwellings etc.
    2. Secondary homelessness: people moving between various forms of temporary
       shelter, including friends, relatives, emergency accommodation and boarding
    3. Tertiary homelessness: people living in single rooms in private boarding
       houses on a long-term basis – without their own bathroom, kitchen or security
       of tenure.
    (Chamberlain, C & MacKenzie, D. 1992)

People become homeless for different lengths of time depending on their
circumstances. “Homelessness may represent a single acute episode in a person‟s life,
or a condition into which individuals enter and exit repeatedly over the course of their
lives” (Neil, et al, 1992:8)

How many homeless people are there?

It is difficult to collect statistics on homeless people, as they do not all use specific
homeless services. People may experience homelessness a number of times
throughout their lifetime, which also makes measuring difficult. Homelessness is
often hidden because people stay with friends, live in squats or are reluctant to access
services where their circumstances may be recorded.

In 1996, the Census recorded 105,305 individuals and 73,000 households as being
homeless in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release further figures
in 2003.

An insight into the extent of homelessness in Australia can be gained by counting the
number of people using homelessness services. The largest State/Commonwealth
Government program that provides support and short-term accommodation to people
who are homeless is the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP).
Services include youth shelters, women‟s refuges, large crisis centres and a range of
other accommodation and support services. Most of the figures in these fact sheets are
based on the people using SAAP services, however, the types of services funded by
governments influence these figures.

In the year July 2000 to June 2001, an estimated 91,200 clients were supported by
SAAP agencies in Australia. They were provided with 168,200 occasions of support
during 2000-01. (NDCA, 2000-01: 12). About 30 percent of these clients are from
Victoria, 28 percent from New South Wales and 20 percent from Queensland. Table 1
shows the number of SAAP clients and a ratio of SAAP clients in the general
population in each state and territory in Australia.

   Table 1: SAAP clients, by State and Territory, Australia, 2000-01

   State/Territory                Number of Clients       Clients    per    10,000
                                                          population aged 10+
   New South Wales                25,500                  45
   Victoria                       27,300                  65
   Queensland                     17,900                  58
   Western Australia              9,600                   59
   South Australia                7,500                   57
   Tasmania                       3,500                   85
   Australian Capital Territory   2,000                   74
   Northern Territory             3,100                   190
   Total                          91,200                  55

   Table 1 reveals that the states and territories with smaller populations such as the
   Northern Territory, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have higher
   ratios of SAAP clients as a proportion of the population aged 10 years and over.
   The ratio for Victoria is also considerably higher than the same figure for

   What is the profile of homeless people?

   SAAP data provides a useful cross-section of the homeless population who use
   homeless services. Most SAAP clients are
       Aged less than 39 years (78%)
       Born in Australia (84%)
       Unemployed or not in the labour force (91%)
       Receiving a government pension or benefit before support (81%).

   A significant proportion of SAAP clients are:
       Indigenous Australians (16%) This is 14% higher than the Australian
          population aged 10 years and over.
       Female sole parents (18%)
       Young people aged 15-19 years (19%)
       Single males aged 25+ (33%)
       Receiving no income before support (10%)
   Where do people live before using homeless services?


      Owner occupied




       Public housing

     Emergency housing

       Private housing

                             0   10          20             30     40          50

(Source: based on NDCA, 2001:46. Note Emergency housing includes refuges, crisis
accommodation, medium and transitional supported accommodation.)

Most people using SAAP services have been living in private housing before
becoming homeless. Despite tenancy legislation, people with low incomes living in
private rental housing are particularly vulnerable to rising rents, eviction and the
current tight supply of rental housing in most capital cities. Private housing also
includes people who are boarding and those who are living rent free in a household
(usually young people living in the parental home).

What causes homelessness?

Homelessness is a complex and multi-dimensional problem. There are many causes of
homelessness and these can be examined on a number of levels.

   1. Structural Inequalities

Structural inequalities bringing about homelessness in Australian society include:
    Lack of access to affordable housing
    Lack of or insecure employment
    Inadequate income support
    Poverty.
Affordable Housing

A lack of long-term affordable housing encourages forced mobility as people strive to
find and keep appropriate dwellings. Recourse to temporary and stopgap
accommodation is associated with frequent moves and often leads to overcrowding.
There is increasing evidence that a growing number of households in the private
rental market are in „housing stress‟ (i.e people paying more than 30 percent of their
income on rent). The number of low and moderate income rental households
experiencing housing stress across the seven capital cities increased by 90,000
between 1986 and 1996 and there were an estimated 227,480 private rental
households in housing stress throughout Australia (Berry and Hall, 2001, p61) Public
housing in many states has not grown sufficiently to meet the demand from low-
income households. Whilst access to public housing varies between regions and
states, many people have to wait indefinitely to access this form of housing. Long-
term community housing is still a very small tenure in Australia and therefore cannot
meet the housing needs of many people.


The lack of access to employment contributes to homeless people not having
sufficient and sustained income to meet basic needs. Over 90 percent of SAAP clients
in 2000-01 were unemployed or not in the labour force. Jobs are often not located
where housing is affordable reinforcing patterns of marginalisation and social

Income Security

Most homeless people are receiving very low incomes or no income at all. Social
security income is often insufficient for people to meet their costs for housing, food
and other basic necessities and services. Australian social security benefits and
pensions (income support) are low by OECD standards. Some people receiving
government payments become homeless because their income is reduced or cut off
because they have „breached‟ or been unable to meet the mutual obligation
requirements established by social security legislation.


People who are homeless are a major group experiencing poverty. About 13.3% to
17.3% of Australian households are living in poverty. While there is some dispute on
how poverty is measured, the link between homelessness and poverty is widely
recognised. The lack of affordable housing, unemployment and inadequate income
support all contribute to the level of poverty.

   2. Breakdown of Family and Social Networks

The breakdown of family and social networks also contributes to homeless. Two of
the major reasons for accessing homelessness services provided by SAAP clients are
domestic violence and family breakdown.
Family instability and breakdown

In 2000-01, 23 percent of SAAP clients stated domestic violence and 10 percent
stated relationship or family breakdown as the main reason for seeking assistance.

Inadequate housing, financial stress and forced mobility can contribute towards
growing conflicts and pressures within households, culminating in domestic violence
and family break-up. Once shattered, coherent family ties may be difficult or
impossible to re-establish, especially where family members have chosen or been
forced to move to different temporary accommodation. (McCaughey, 1992)

   3. Personal Factors: Social Exclusion and Discrimination

Many people become homeless because they excluded or discriminated against
because of particular individual issues. These issues include health difficulties
particularly mental illness and substance abuse. For some people, these issues occur
after they become homeless and the resultant discrimination or social exclusion
reinforces their homelessness. Many people who are homeless have a combination of
these issues and are sometimes referred to as having complex needs.


Poor health is shown to cause homelessness but also poor health exacerbates
homelessness. Those sleeping rough, living in hostels, squats and other temporary
accommodation have a higher risk of death and disease than those who have adequate
housing (Western: 1999)

Mental Illness

A significant proportion of the homeless population are experiencing mental health
issues. Large homeless crisis services in Melbourne report that between 19% and 26%
of their clients have psychiatric problems (Hanover Welfare Services and Ozanam

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is known to be a trigger and a consequence of homelessness. The
rate of high-risk/dependent opiate users is estimated to increase by 36% in the five
years to 2003. The number of high-risk/dependent alcohol users is estimated to
increase by 12% in the same period (Victorian Homelessness Strategy: 11)

What about homelessness in Victoria?

The 1996 Census recorded that there were 17,840 homeless individuals in Victoria. In
2000-01, 27,300 clients accessed SAAP services in Victoria. Comparing SAAP
clients in Victoria to clients in Australia, there are higher proportions in Victoria of
     Females (Victoria 60%, Australia 54%)
     Young people (Victoria 40.2%, Australia 37.1%)
     Sole female parents with children (Victoria 24.1%, Australia 18.8%)
    Clients where eviction or previous accommodation ended is provided as the
     main reason for seeking assistance (Victoria 15.2%, Australia 10.7%)
    Clients living in private housing before support (Victoria 50%, Australia 45%)
     This includes private rental, living rent-free in house or flat and boarding in a
     private home.

The high proportion of homeless people coming from the private rental market in
Victoria is of particular concern given the rising rents and low vacancies in the private
rental market.

What is being done for homeless people in Australia?

A range of Commonwealth and State government programs assist homeless people, as
well as services provided by the community sector. A range of social security benefits
including single parent, aged, unemployment and disability payments that homeless
people may access supplements these programs.

The Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) is a joint world-class
innovative Commonwealth/State program which funds 1,238 agencies across
Australia to deliver supported accommodation and related support services to
homeless people. SAAP clients include people who are homeless or at imminent risk
of becoming homeless due to a crisis. The SAAP program is innovative with its
research and in developing best practice models particularly suited to the diverse
needs of homeless people in Australia.

The Commonwealth/State Housing Agreement provides the funding basis for
public housing across Australia, as well as a range of other housing programs. The
Commonwealth and States/Territories contribute grants to build or upgrade public
housing and for various purposes such as mortgage relief and bond assistance. Public
housing stock comprises 6.5% of Australian dwellings (4% in Victoria), however
waiting lists are long and many people wait long periods of time to access public
housing sometimes indefinitely.

The Commonwealth Government provides Rent Assistance through the Department
of Social Security to people on low incomes who pay rent in the private rental market.
The amount of assistance provided depends on the household make-up and size and is
available when rents exceed 20% of the household‟s income. Rent assistance is also
available to people living in nursing homes and caravan parks.

The Commonwealth Emergency Relief Program provides funding of $26 million
annually to 1200 welfare and community organisations so they can assist individuals
and families in immediate short-term financial crisis. This program is designed to
provide one-off crisis support, not on-going assistance. Assistance is most sought to
cope with food, accommodation, electricity and transport/petrol costs.

The Housing Establishment Fund is a Victorian Government program providing
financial assistance to people on low incomes to meet establishment costs for housing.
Funding is provided to agencies in the homelessness sector to administer this financial
assistance. Assistance is provided for rent arrears, rent-in-advance, bond, crisis
accommodation, white goods and moving expenses. Similar programs exist in other
States and Territories.

The Community Housing sector is run by non-profit agencies, mainly funded by
State and Commonwealth governments to provide a variety of affordable rental
housing in a range of locations with secure tenure. The community sector also
promotes tenant participation in housing management so that tenants can maximise
control over their own housing.

For more information, read the following references:

Council to Homeless Persons Victoria, 1999. There‟s No Place Like Home.
Proceedings of the 2nd National Conference on Homelessness

Chamberlain, C. & MacKenzie, D. 1992, „Understanding Contemporary
Homelessness: Issues of Definition and Meaning‟, Australian Journal of Social Issues
27(4), 274-297

Horn, M, 2002. „Increasing Homelessness: Evidence of housing market failure in
Australia‟, Just Policy No.25, VCOSS

National Data Collection Agency, 2001. SAAP National Data Collection, Annual
Report, 2000-01, Australia, AIHW

National Data Collection Agency, 2001. SAAP National Data Collection, Annual
Report, 2000-01, Australia, AIHW

Neil, C et al, 1992. Homelessness in Australia, CSIRO

Parity Magazine, Council to Homeless Persons

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