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Homelessness in Australia

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Homelessness in Australia

A homeless person's shelter under a fallen willow tree in Australia.
Abandoned homeless shelter Mawson, ACT

This article describes homelessness in Australia. The majority of long term homeless people are found in the large cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. It is estimated that on any given night approximately 105,000 people will be homeless.[1]

A person is considered to be homeless in Australia if they:

  • Do not have access to safe, secure adequate housing, or, if the only housing they have access to damages, or is likely to damage, their health.
  • Are in circumstances which threaten or adversely affect the adequacy, safety, security, or affordability of their home.
  • Have no security of tenure – that is, they have no legal right to continued occupation of their living area.

2011 Census Homelessness Figures

There were 105,237 people experiencing homelessness in Australia on Census night in 2011. This equated to 1 in 200 Australians,[2] and represented an increase of 17% from the 2006 Census, with the rate of homelessness increasing from 45 per 10,000 to 49 per 10,000.

People who are homeless in Australia are classified into one of six categories. These are:

  • Improvised dwellings, tents, sleepers out
  • Supported accommodation
  • People staying with other households
  • Boarding houses
  • Other temporary lodgings
  • Severely overcrowded dwellings

56% of people experiencing homelessness on Census night were male and 44% female. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were over-represented in homelessness data making up 25% of the homeless population, compared to 2.5% of the Australian population. 30% of those experiencing homelessness were born overseas above the % of the Australian population.

From 2006 to 2011 the number of people sleeping 'rough' decreased from 9% of the homeless population to 6%. There was also a significant increase (23%) in the number of people staying in homelessness services.


Reason Percentage
Domestic and family violence 25
Financial difficulties 15
Housing stress 13
Inappropriate or inadequate dwellings 10
Relationship or family breakdown ~6
Housing affordability stress ~5
Source: AIHW Specialist Homelessness
Services data collection (2011–12)

There are many causes of homelessness.[3][4][5][6] The reasons for homelessness are many and varied and each individual's path to homelessness is different and unique. Some other reasons for homelessness are: addictions, exiting care (foster care system or prison system), barriers facing refugees, debt, disability, unemployment, lack of support, blacklisting, poverty, and being kicked out of home. Some of the current homeless population in Australia were previously in large-scale residential institutions for the mentally ill. Deinstitutionalisation of people with mentally illnesses began in Australia during the 1980s, and most now live in the general community.

The Road Home - Federal Government White Paper

The Road Home[7] was launched by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in December 2008.[8] This White Paper sets an ambitious target to halve homelessness by 2020 and offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it.[9] Launching the White Paper, Kevin Rudd said, referring to the 105,000 homeless people in Australia "A country like this should not have this problem, so large and longstanding, without being addressed, It's time we had a decent solution to this problem that has been around for a long time."[10]

The Road Home focuses future effort and investment into three strategies:

  1. Turning Off the Tap: Early intervention services to prevent homelessness.
  2. Improving and expanding services which aim to end homelessness: Ensuring that Services are more connected, integrated and responsive to achieve sustainable housing, improve social and economic participation and end homelessness for their clients.
  3. Breaking the Cycle: Ensuring that people who become homeless are able to quickly move through the crisis system into stable housing with the support they need so that homelessness does not recur.[11]

Affordable Housing

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG)'s National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) subject to provisions of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations, defines and measures housing and homelessness services for the Commonwealth and the States and Territories.[12] In 2008 Rudd announced that NAHA would "deliver more longer-term housing for Australians who are homeless, more public and community housing and build and renew run down and overcrowded housing for Indigenous Australians living in remote areas."[7] NAHA's manadate includes a) social housing; assistance to people in the private rental market; support and accommodation for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness; and home purchase assistance; b) (b) working towards improving coordination across housing related programs to make better use of existing stock and under-utilised Government assets and achieve better integration between housing and human services, including health and disability services; and c) reducing the rate of homelessness."[12]

State Government Initiatives

In South Australia, the State Government of Premier Mike Rann (2002 to 2011) committed substantial funding to a series of initiatives designed to combat homelessness. Advised by Social Inclusion Commissioner David Cappo and the founder of New York's Common Ground program, Rosanne Haggerty , the Rann Government established Common Ground Adelaide [13] building high quality inner city apartments (combined with intensive support) for "rough sleeping" homeless people. The government also funded the Street to Home program and a hospital liaison service designed to assist homeless people who are admitted to the Emergency Departments of Adelaide's major public hospitals. Rather than being released back into homelessness, patients identified as rough sleepers are found accommodation backed by professional support. Common Ground and Street to Home now operate across Australia in other States.


According to the 2006 census, there were over 44,000 young people homeless. This means that about 43% of the Australian homeless population are infants, children or youth under the age of 25. A particularly common form of youth homelessness in Australia is "couch surfing" whereby the homeless person relies on the support of friends to sleep on their couch or floor.[14] Relationship breakdown and family conflict are often cited as common instigators of youth homelessness.[15]

Youth Homelessness Matters Day is an annual event run across Australia that highlights youth homelessness and associated issues.[16]

New South Wales


Post traumatic stress disorder and homelessness

A 2006 University of Sydney study of Sydney's homeless found a very high incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst the homeless.[19][20][21][22]

See also

Mental health:


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Coffey, Michael. "What Ever Happened to the Revolution? Activism and the Early Days of Youth Refuges in NSW." Parity. Volume 19, Issue 10. Another Country: Histories of Homelessness. Council to Homeless Persons. (2006): 23-25.
  18. ^ Coffey, Michael. "What Ever Happened to the (R)evolution?: Take 2 Revisiting Activism and the Early Days of Youth Refuges in NSW." Undercurrent No. 1. (2008): 5-12.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^

External links

  • Homelessness Australia
  • Homeless People & Homelessness
  • Rents fuel plight of homeless young
  • The University of Sydney: Study reveals stress (PTSD) factor in homelessness
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