There are several definitions of homelessness, but they tend to include ‘rooflessness’ (primary homelessness) where people are sleeping on the streets or in improvised dwellings, and ‘houselessness’, where people are in temporary accommodation in institutions or shelters, unfit housing or in extreme overcrowding)1.
Despite steady economic growth since 2011, between the census taken that year and the census taken in 2016, homelessness increased by 14%, such that now it is estimated that 116,427 people have no permanent home. This is in one of the richest countries on the planet. This is a national, if not an international embarrassment2.
Of the homeless 116,427, over 43,500 are under 25. Migrants are also disproportionately affected, such that while just over 28% of Australians were born overseas, they comprise 46% of the homeless2. Similarly, although 2.8% of Australians are Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders, they comprise 20% of the homeless
The increase in homelessness among the chronically disadvantaged is due to rising housing costs coupled with a decline in public and community housing according to Guy Johnson, RMIT professor of urban housing and homelessness. He added that “in a country as prosperous as Australia, this is a disturbing and worrying trend”2.
John Falzon, the CEO of St Vincent de Paul stated that charities can only do so much and that it is “time for the federal government to show real leadership and make some brave decisions to end homelessness in our rich country”2. I won’t be holding my breath. This government is only concerned about looking after the big end of town as demonstrated by its adherence to neoliberal ‘trickledown’ economics where the rich are looked after and the poor and working classes can look after themselves. This is diametrically opposed to the thrust of the ‘forgotten people’ speech delivered by the founder of the Liberal Party, Robert Menzies3. The government is now trying to prevent charities, like St Vincent de Paul, from engaging in political debate.
This government has applauded the cut in Sunday penalty rates for people who are mostly low-income earners4. Also, it has not pushed for an increase to the minimum wage, in apparent agreement with the National Retail Association, that have stated business cannot afford any increase in the minimum wage at all5. This will make it more likely that low-income earners will fall out the bottom of the system and become homeless. Expect the homeless rate to continue to climb.