Every night across Australia, more than 105,000 people are homeless. Two out of three people who look for crisis accommodation are turned away; there are ‘no vacancies’. Many end up on the street or living in sub standard boarding houses, caravans, squats, cars, refuges, or sleeping on friends’ couches. Vast numbers of our fellow Australians live in these miserable and often dangerous conditions.
Homelessness is complex, with each person having a different journey into homelessness. Homelessness is often the end point to a series of life events, and the people who are homeless are not who you may think. Close to half the homeless are female — many with young children — and nearly half of all homeless are under the age of 25. Domestic/family violence is the biggest single contributor to homelessness. Other major contributors are poor mental health, family breakdown, debt, poverty, lease expiry, violence and abuse, chronic gambling and substance addiction, leaving state care or leaving prison.
It is a national disgrace that Australia is not taking more action to end homelessness.
In most developed countries, including Australia, homelessness service provision has grown in response to the problem and has tended to address the immediate or crisis needs of people. There has been less strategic development of systems that have anticipated ending chronic homelessness.
Faced with the extreme poverty and social exclusion of people experiencing homelessness, a broad range of agencies have developed responses to it. Often, such responses have been reactive and somewhat ad-hoc. They have sought to manage the problem rather than to resolve or end it. Thus, services have developed to cater for the immediate needs of homeless people – shelters/hostels to provide beds on a night-by-night basis, mechanisms for distributing food, healthcare in emergency departments. Such services do extremely valuable work and many go far beyond catering for the most basic needs of food and shelter to offer a broader range of support. These responses to the immediate problem of homelessness are undoubtedly effective in treating its severest symptoms and have an important role to play as short-term solutions. However, several decades after homelessness emerged as a large-scale problem, it is time to stop managing the problem and to strive to end homelessness.
The tools for ending homelessness are well known – quality, affordable housing and long-term support. Many advocates now focus their energies on building community and government support to make available and coordinate these two essential ingredients. The result will be a quick end to the trauma of homelessness for individuals and families and a reduction in the personal, social and economic costs of homelessness.
StreetSmart’s role in ending homelessness:
- StreetSmart will work towards the elimination of homelessness in Australia, especially chronic homelessness
- StreetSmart will work to prevent people becoming homeless
- StreetSmart will work to support & empower those experiencing homelessness to improve their situation
- StreetSmart will work to support people who are newly housed, to retain their tenancies
- StreetSmart will advocate for provision of Permanent Supportive Housing for those who need it
- StreetSmart will advocate for the provision of affordable housing options
- StreetSmart will advocate for better funding for smaller service providers