Scale of Homelessness Report and Beyond
20 July 2009 at 4:14 pm
Rates of homelessness vary widely across Australia, not only between states and territories but within them, according to what has been described as the most comprehensive national homeless research to date published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
And the researchers say anecdotal evidence suggests the situation has probably worsened since the 2006 census data due to the global financial crisis and rising unemployment.
The Counting the Homeless reports provides a state and territory breakdown and analysis of national data published by the ABS last September in the Counting the Homeless 2006 national report.
They include discussion of characteristics of people experiencing homelessness and provide extensive analyses of their circumstances, drawn from experience of people working with the homeless.
Report co-author, Associate Professor Chris Chamberlain from RMIT University, said the differences in homelessness between the states and territories fell into four main groups:
• Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria: 42 homeless people per 10,000 population (1364, 27,374 and 20,511 people respectively).
• South Australia and Tasmania: 53 people per 10,000 (7,962 and 2,507 people respectively).
• Queensland and Western Australia: 68 and 69 per 10,000 (26,782 and 13,391 people respectively).
• Northern Territory: 248 homeless people per 10,000 (4785 people).
The researchers say that expressing homelessness as a rate per 10,000 means that differences between one area and another can be highlighted.
Report co-author, Associate Professor David MacKenzie of Swinburne University, said the reports showed higher rates of homelessness in inner city areas.
He says this is not because inner city areas are necessarily socially disadvantaged areas, but because people there are more likely to be transient, having often come from other areas, and there are more homeless services closer to the inner city.
In Sydney, where there were almost 16,000 homeless people in 2006, the rate of homelessness in Inner Sydney was 133 per 10,000, while in the inner city ring of suburbs it was 53 per 10,000, and in the outer suburbs it was 22 per 10,000.
Almost 15,000 people were homeless in Melbourne. The rate of homelessness in the city centre was 129 per 10,000, dropping to 38 per 10,000 in the inner city ring and 28 per 10,000 in the outer suburbs.
There were 246 people per 10,000 who were homeless in inner Brisbane, whereas the overall rate for Brisbane was 56 per 10,000, with 5,395 homeless people across all areas of the city.
In Perth there were 6,720 homeless people. In central Perth, the rate of homelessness was 109 per 10,000 compared with 47 per 10,000 overall.
And in Adelaide where there were 5,213 homeless people, the rate of homelessness in the inner city was 457 per 10,000 compared with 47 per 10,000 for Adelaide overall.
Outside cities, homelessness rates in northern Australia are very high. In the Kimberley region, for example, there were 1,870 homeless people but a rate of 638 people per 10,000. These rates partly reflect issues of Indigenous transience and inadequate housing, although non-Indigenous Australians also experience higher rates of homelessness in remote areas.
The report concludes that reducing the size of the homeless population will require a significant investment in early intervention and applying appropriate intervention models for different subgroups in the population. There will also be a need for improved services to support people who are homeless and follow-up support to ensure that formerly homeless people can maintain their accommodation.
It says a major investment in affordable housing, including public and community housing is also needed.
Professor MacKenzie says in places where specific early intervention programs have been introduced the number of homeless has been reduced. He says one example of this is a small but effective Home Advice Program which has seen a drop in the number of teenagers aged 12-18 coming under the ‘homeless’ category.
He says these types of early intervention programs need to be rolled out on a large scale.
He says their research found that in Victoria, the number of teenagers ‘sleeping rough’ actually dropped by 20 percent. This goes against the trend of other states, where the figure rose by up to 30 percent.
Prof. MacKenzie says this can be attributed to the Victorian Government’s particular focus on the homeless issue.
He says the existing services in Australia are the best in the western world; even better that the US or the UK and Europe.
He says the Federal Government’s roll out of the $6.4 billion Nation Building program is timely and necessary given that governments in the past have largely ignored the problems of homelessness in times of prosperity.
He says the Rudd Government’s policy settings in this area are on track but they need to be implemented correctly, efficiently and sufficiently. The scale of the response needs to match the scale of the problem.
Professor MacKenzie says there still needs to be a sense of urgency in dealing with the issues and he urges the Federal Government ‘not to go to sleep on the job’.
The state by state reports can be downloaded at www.aihw.gov.au