What is homelessness?
People experiencing homelessness include those who sleep rough on the streets or under makeshift dwellings. Although people who sleep rough are most visible to the public, they only represent 7% of the homeless population.
- Women, young people and families staying in refuges or crisis accommodation or who move from one temporary accommodation to another are also considered to be homeless.
- Then there are Australians of all ages who ‘couch surf’ or stay with friends and family for limited periods of time. Some people also stay in cheap hotels or even in their cars.
- People living in severely overcrowded dwellings or accommodation that falls well below basic community standards, such as boarding houses and caravan parks, can also be considered to be homeless.
Who is at risk of homelessness?
Australians of all ages and backgrounds become homeless. However, some people are more vulnerable to homelessness than others. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, for example, account for a quarter of all people who are homeless. This is despite making up only 2.5% of the population.
And while 56% of homeless people are male, the number of women experiencing homelessness has risen significantly. Being over the age of 45, renting and single increases a woman's risk of becoming homeless.
Sadly, children and young people are disproportionately affected by homelessness. In 2010, half of the people who sought help from a specialist homelessness services were under 25, and a third we under 17. Two-thirds of these children were with mothers escaping domestic violence.
Public perceptions of homelessness
The common perception of a homeless person is an older man with a drinking or drug problem who sleeps in an inner-city park or street. However, we know from our experience and Census figures there is no “typical” homeless person.
Homelessness can affect men, women and children from a wide range of backgrounds living in our cities, suburbs and country towns.
Yet the problem is often masked by the fact that people experiencing homeless move from one temporary solution to another, making do until they can find permanent accommodation.
These people – the ‘hidden homeless’ - move between the homes of family members or, as is often the case with young people who ‘couch surf’, a series of friends. Some stay in refuges, boarding houses, cheap motels, caravans and even cars. As you can imagine, such uncertainty can take an enormous toll on a person’s self-worth and capacity to go to school, find work and stay healthy.
Homelessness also comes at a high social and economic cost to our society, which is why prevention is so vital.