Published on August 14, 2012 at www.ourworldtoday.com.au
WHAT has led 105,000 people to become homeless in Australia?
This question and others were answered as a part of national Homeless Persons’ Week last week.
Organisations and non-profit groups organised a range of events, including community sleep-outs, information expos, conferences and memorial services, across the country to raise awareness and encourage Australians to learn about homelessness.
The focus of this year’s campaign has been to push people to understand what has led to 105,000 homeless people in Australia every night.
Homelessness Australia research and policy officer Travis Gilbert says the issue is not a simple as people may believe it to be.
“The cause of homelessness is often complex and due to a multitude of reasons, and this needs to be taken into account when we try to find a solution,” he said.
“Homelessness can happen to anyone [and] people experiencing homelessness come from all walks of life and all age groups.”
Homelessness Australia says more than 40 per cent of the homeless population are women and one quarter of people sleeping rough each night are under 18.
According to the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, more than 70 per cent of young people leaving state care will at some stage spend part of their lives homeless.
Experts in the sector say a leading cause of homelessness is a lack of family and community support.
Salvation Army territorial social programme director Netty Horton told Our World Today many people who have become homeless do not have strong support networks.
“We all need some support at some point in our lives,” Ms Horton said.
“It’s just that people who are homeless may not have family and community support that’s available to many other people in the population.”
Lack of community and family support, financial difficulty, disability, gambling addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, illness, mental illness, poverty, unemployment and being a refugee are all factors that disadvantage people and in many cases cause people to become homeless.
Financial difficulty is often accompanied by poor physical and mental health, drug and alcohol problems, or domestic violence.
Domestic violence continues to be the leading cause of people living on the streets, with Homelessness Australia stating almost half of the women with children staying in assistance services are escaping domestic violence.
One in five Australian women over 15 will experience sexual violence while one in three will experience physical violence according to Homelessness Australia.
Women who grow up in families affected by domestic violence are more likely to have violent relationships when the reach adulthood.
In addition, women tend to experience higher levels of poverty as well as lower rates of employment and pay than men, thus making women vulnerable to the possibility of becoming homeless.
“With the goal of halving homelessness by 2020 quickly approaching we need to continue to take a proactive approach to reducing homelessness,” Mr Gilbert said.
“Addressing the reasons we become homeless and enabling change before these issues become a problem means we can significantly reduce the number of people who are, or are at risk of becoming, homeless.”
Homelessness Australia states that every night, more than half the people who request crisis accommodation from homelessness services are turned away.
For those who are turned away from homelessness services with little money and no family or friends to stay with, ‘sleeping rough’ is their only option.
More than 16,000 people sleep rough, meaning they do not have conventional accommodation and may sleep on the streets, in improvised dwellings or in cars.
Ms Horton has worked in the sector for more than 25 years and says she is frustrated when she hears people say that homeless people have chosen that lifestyle.
“During the last 25 years I have worked with a lot of different people who are living on the street and I have never met anyone who has liked it,” she told Our World Today.
“They might have chosen that as an option because the alternatives available to them aren’t very good but nobody really chooses to live as a homeless person.”
Ms Horton says most homeless people are looking for long-term housing but a critical issue facing the sector in Australia is the lack of affordable housing.
People often find themselves homeless due to high rent prices, particularly when unemployed.
“What most homeless people want is the same as what any Australian wants – they want to be able to work and participate in their local community.”
“They want somewhere to live and they want to feel accepted and part of where they live.”