CANBERRA, Australia — Despite ranking 17th on the worldwide Prosperity Index, the Commonwealth of Australia has seen an uptick in homelessness over the last decade. Between the 2011 and 2016 national censuses, the number of Australians experiencing homelessness increased from 41,730 to 51,088, or around 23%. The Australian government estimated that for every 10,000 people in Australia, approximately 50 were homeless. While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions for the homeless in Australia, the Australian government and many private organizations are taking steps to provide relief and shelter to those without stable housing. Here is some information about homelessness in Australia.
What Causes Homelessness in Australia?
Advocates and experts say that there is a strong link between homelessness in Australia and rising housing prices in major Australian cities. The Grattan Institute, an independent public policy think tank that focuses on alleviating economic and social strain on Australian citizens, cites that in the city of Victoria, low-income households are spending above 25% of their income on housing and that renters and young people on welfare are especially vulnerable to losing stable housing.
Homelessness in Australia also stems from a number of social factors, such as mental health issues, domestic abuse, substance abuse and poor health. Ethnicity and location are also important factors in understanding the state of homelessness in Australia. Indigenous Australians are 14 times more likely to suffer from unstable housing than non-Indigenous Australians. While many homeless Australians live in major cities such as Victoria or Perth, the 2011 census claims that 60% of Indigenous Australians experiencing homelessness live in “very remote areas.” Of those homeless Indigenous Australians, roughly 40% are under the age of 18.
Resources and Services for the Homeless in Australia
The Australian government provides relief for the homeless and those at risk of losing stable housing in Australia through the Specialist Homelessness Service Collection (SHS) in the form of economic and personal relief. Through 2018 and 2019, SHS provided assistance to 1.2% of the Australian population. In addition to government services, there is a litany of private organizations that provide relief to the homeless in Australia:
- The Australian Red Cross – The Australian Red Cross provides secure and affordable housing to Australians. Each year on average, the Australian Red Cross helps 2,180 secure housing, provides prevention support for 1,360 at-risk youth and delivers 43,000 meals to those in need.
- Mission Australia – The goal of Mission Australia is to provide affordable and secure housing to low-income and homeless Australians, in addition to providing prevention programs for vulnerable populations. In 2018-2019, Mission Australia assisted over 160,000 Australians, around 20% of whom received transitional accommodation, tenancy support and other homelessness related services.
- The St. Vincent De Paul Society – With 60,000 members, the St. Vincent De Paul Society is a Catholic organization that has dedicated itself to social justice, establishing housing as a right and providing relief for low-income and homeless Australians. The organization’s 2019 CEO Sleepout program raised $7.9 million, and the funds went toward, among other resources, hot meals and medical assistance.
- The Salvation Army Australia – The Salvation Army Australia dedicates itself to acting on the values of integrity, compassion, respect, diversity and collaboration to aid those in need. Salvation Army Australia assists low-income and homeless families obtain access to shelter and affordable housing, providing support to 46,787 Australians in 2020 who were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
- Kids Under Cover – Specializing in the prevention of youth homelessness, Kids Under Cover works with Australians aged 12-25. Kids Under Cover’s flagship program is its Studio Program, which involves building studio accommodations (including one or two bedrooms with a bathroom) in the backyards of families’ homes to provide young Australians with clean and stable accommodations and extra room for families living in tight quarters. A survey with 25% of the Studio Program’s nearly 500 household client base reported a 53% decrease in family conflict, a 68% decrease in overcrowding and a 14% increase in clients who enjoyed the time spent with their families.
WAAEH’s 10-year plan
In 2018, the Western Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (WAAEH) released a report including a 10-year plan detailing what actions are necessary to end homelessness in Western Australia by 2028. While WAAEH’s 10-year plan specifically aims to end homelessness in Western Australia, the plan includes policy proposals and suggestions that would benefit the entire country. In 2019, WAAEH received funding from Lotterywest to assist in the implementation of its strategy, leading to the Centre for Social Impact UWA to establish an evaluation framework to monitor the efficacy of the 10-year plan. WAEEH’s plan lays out an agenda that focuses on five “core strategic areas:”
- “Housing” – An increase in the amount of affordable housing provides more opportunities for young renters and families to secure stable housing.
- “Prevention” – By creating strong response systems that help support Australians who stand the risk of losing housing, Australia can prevent substantial cases of homelessness and ensure better living conditions for low-income Australians.
- “A Strong and Coordinated Response” – What the WAAEH calls a “24/7 ‘no wrong door’ system” can strengthen community responses and relief systems to those in need of medical or financial assistance.
- “Data, Research and Targets” – Conducting effective research into the causes of homelessness and finding efficient solutions to assisting at-risk Australians and preventing homelessness gives any organization combating homelessness a better understanding of how to provide relief and prevent homelessness.
- “Building Community Capacity” – Building community coalitions and developing solutions from those in the community who have experienced homelessness makes each community more equipped to take on homelessness.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, making concerted efforts to address homelessness in Australia is of utmost importance to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens. While it is early to gauge the impact of WAAEH’s 10-year plan, the core tenants of the strategy reflect the social infrastructural changes for which Australian advocates have deemed necessary to effectively fight homelessness in Australia. Growing efforts to supply more Australians with secure and affordable housing, community support and prevention programs make Australia better equipped to tackle homelessness.
– Kieran Graulich