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Social Sector Calls for Action as Homelessness Rises by 14 Per Cent

14 March 2018 at 5:56 pm
Luke Michael
The social sector has called for action in wake of new census data, which revealed that homelessness in Australia has risen by almost 14 per cent in five years.

Luke Michael | 14 March 2018 at 5:56 pm


Social Sector Calls for Action as Homelessness Rises by 14 Per Cent
14 March 2018 at 5:56 pm

The social sector has called for action in wake of new census data, which revealed that homelessness in Australia has risen by almost 14 per cent in five years.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released new data from the 2016 Census of Population and Housing on Wednesday.

It estimated that 116,427 people were experiencing homelessness on census night in 2016, a 13.7 per cent increase compared to the 2011 figure of 102,439 people.

People living in “severely” crowded dwellings, which require four or more extra bedrooms to accommodate those usually living there, was cited as the greatest contributor to the national increase.

Dr Paul Jelfs, the general manager of population and social statistics at ABS, said in 2016 this group accounted for 51,088 people, up from 41,370 in 2011.

“On census night, 8,200 people were estimated to be ‘sleeping rough’ in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out – an increase from 3.2 persons per 10,000 people in 2011 to 3.5 persons per 10,000 people in 2016,” Jelfs said.

Younger Australians emerged as a group experiencing increased homelessness rates.

“One quarter of all people experiencing homelessness in 2016 was aged between 20 and 30 years,” Jelfs said.

Older Australians also experienced a homelessness increase, with the rate of people aged between 65 and 74 years experiencing homelessness rising to 27 persons per 10,000 people, up from 25 persons per 10,000 people in 2011.

The social sector has come out and urged governments to take action in wake of these figures.

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said he was “not at all surprised” by the homelessness rate rise.

“It’s what our services and others across the sector have experienced for years,” Toomey said.

“It is an international embarrassment caused by the long-term absence of a national co-ordinated plan and the lack of a serious commitment to building new social and affordable homes. We cannot afford to ignore this situation any longer.

“The housing market is not delivering for those on the lowest and even moderate incomes. The lack of appropriate social and affordable housing is very clearly evidenced in the alarming rise in overcrowding, particularly in New South Wales, where the housing market has seen some of the most significant price rises.”

Toomey said a “coherent national strategy” was needed to address the issue.

“We know what works. We need a coherent national strategy and a long-term commitment from government to build new social and affordable homes. This requires commitment from all governments the corporate sector, charities and individuals,” he said.

“To even begin to house those who are in need, we require the Commonwealth and state and territory governments to commit to the building of 300,000 new social homes and 200,000 affordable rental properties across Australia by 2030.  

“We also need sustainable and innovative housing solutions. Ultimately this needs the government to work with the private and non-government sector to build diverse and healthy communities. It is of vital importance that new social and affordable homes are created within communities of opportunity, with infrastructure connected to education, training and support services.”

Mission Australia said a national plan must also tackle contributors to individual homelessness such as family violence, poverty, disability and mental health issues.

The organisation called for a 30 per cent increase in the maximum value of Rent Assistance for all payment recipients to address rental stress and lessen the risk of homelessness.

Dr Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), said the government needed to address the conditions increasing poverty and inequality in Australia to address homelessness.

“Government must do better in reducing homelessness. As a starting point, it must not walk away from agreements like the National Partnership on Remote Housing, which is a critical part of addressing the affordable housing crisis for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities,” Goldie said.

“Inadequate incomes and unaffordable housing are forcing people into homelessness, as shown by today’s figures. Children with their parents, young people, workers, and older people are living in cars, in boarding houses and on other people’s couches.

“We hear over and over from people staring down the barrel of homelessness because they cannot afford to pay for essentials. People are choosing between feeding themselves or their children; paying an energy bill or covering the cost of dental care.”

Goldie said the priority was for the government to create an independent housing body and to develop a new national housing and homelessness strategy.

“We need immediate solutions to this crisis. We need an independent body to monitor and evaluate housing and homelessness. Homelessness numbers should be decreasing in a wealthy country like ours, not increasing,” she said.

“We cannot let homelessness continue to increase. Government must develop a new national housing and homelessness strategy as a priority, with clear targets to increase the supply of affordable housing for low-income households and to reduce homelessness.”

The St Vincent de Paul National Council said that these figures from the ABS showed “a frightening picture of homelessness across Australia”.

“It is now time for the federal government to show real leadership and make some brave decisions to end homelessness in our rich country,” the council’s CEO Dr John Falzon said.

“We have to move away from seeing homelessness only as an individual problem and understand that it is the way that we organise our society that makes homelessness for some people almost impossible to avoid.

“Charities like St Vincent de Paul will always continue to support those experiencing homelessness, but the government must also pull its weight in contributing to a fairer society in which no one gets left out.”

National Shelter used the latest statistics to renew their calls for an increase in the supply of affordable housing in Australia.

Executive officer Adrian Pisarski said that the figures highlighted a need to immediately invest in new supplies of subsidised housing.

“Each and every Australian should have access to affordable, accessible, safe and secure housing, and current supplies simply do not meet needs,” Pisarski said.

“Not only is it the right thing to do, but there is evidence that shows that homelessness is massively expensive because it leads to additional emergency room presentations and interactions with the criminal justice system.  

“But at the core of the issue is that there is not enough housing that is affordable for people in the most difficult of situations. And with rampant rental inflation over the past two decades, more and more Australian have less to buffer them from the very real possibility of homelessness.”   

National Shelter called for an immediate investment in an additional 20,000 social housing dwellings.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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