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High Rate of Homelessness Among ex-Prisoners

28 May 2015 at 9:47 am
Lina Caneva
A new study has found that almost half of all people released from prison systems in Australia in the past six months are homeless.

Lina Caneva | 28 May 2015 at 9:47 am


High Rate of Homelessness Among ex-Prisoners
28 May 2015 at 9:47 am

A new study has found that almost half of all people released from prison systems in Australia in the past six months are homeless.

The Journeys Home Research Report No. 6, written by the Melbourne Institute and commissioned by the Department of Social Services, followed more than 1,400 homeless Australians including those recently released from prison, juvenile detention or remand.

Contributing author Dr Julie Moschion from the University of Melbourne said the study found  the longer the time spent in prison the longer the individual was likely to be homeless.

“The connections between prison time and homelessness suggest that there is a further role for policy makers to prevent the cycle between crime and homelessness,” Dr Moschion said.

“We also found that rates of homelessness were higher for those who experienced physical and sexual violence.”

The report found multiple spells of homelessness are also relatively common with 40 percent of those experiencing homelessness cycled in and out of homelessness.

Council to Homeless Persons spokesperson Sarah Toohey told Pro Bono Australia News the results of the report were unsurprising.

“It’s not at all surprising that the rate of homelessness amongst prison leavers is so high; they have everything stacked against them. The stigma of prison can make it hard to find a job or a place to live, which is compounded by a chronic shortage of affordable housing,” Toohey said.

“Homelessness services have their hands tied, often being forced to place prison leavers in rooming houses because there’s not enough emergency accommodation and no affordable rentals. Others end up couch surfing or sleeping rough.

“The Newstart allowance of $250 per week doesn’t go far when median rent for a one-bedroom rental in metro Melbourne is $320 per week.

“Only one-in-200 one-bedroom rentals in all of Melbourne would be affordable to someone on Newstart, and even if they could afford the rent, prison leavers often face discrimination.”

The report includes three types of homelessness: those without conventional accommodation; those moving frequently between temporary accommodation and people staying in boarding houses on a medium to long-term basis.

Dr Heather Holst, CEO of HomeGround Services, which runs a justice program that includes assisting people to find housing when exiting the justice system, said the organisation was well aware of the high numbers of men and women being discharged each year from prison without anywhere to live.

"Often they have not had a stable home prior to being imprisoned and this situation has often gone on for many years and even started in childhood," Holst said. 

"It is also true that imprisonment often means the loss of housing either through inability to pay rent or family breakdown.

"There have been some small scale attempts to address this problem of homelessness upon release, but a serious, properly scaled response needs to be designed and implemented as a matter of priority.

"Rather than building extraordinarily expensive new prison capacity, we should be investing in housing and services that will prevent further offending and give very disadvantaged people a chance. We know from the justice housing programs we run that this does work," Holst said.

The study also found that rates of homelessness are also higher in areas with higher housing costs. Those who moved to areas with cheaper housing are more likely to exit homelessness.

Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said more flexible and affordable accommodation options were needed so that people leaving prison have somewhere safe to go.

“We also need to ensure they have support networks and the appropriate services that begin while they are still in prison to help maintain long-term sustainable accommodation options,” she said.

“If we only look to provide accommodation and not address the root causes of their problems then we will always be chasing our tail on this issue.

“Not only is it more cost effective to prevent homelessness occurring in the first place, long term integrated support ensures people won’t lapse back into criminal activity.”

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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