What is homelessness?
Many people, if asked, would say homelessness is when you don’t have roof over your head, for example sleeping rough on the streets. However rough sleeping is only a small part of the picture. Homelessness is about not having a home – ‘home’lessness, not rooflessness. A home means a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety, and the ability to control living space (Mallet, 2004).
It is for this reason that the Australian Bureau of Statistics says someone is homeless if their current living arrangement:
• is in a dwelling that is inadequate; or
• has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable; or
• does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations.
In order to work out how many people are homeless the ABS count people who are living somewhere temporarily, in a boarding house, living in supported homelessness accommodation, sleeping out (or in things such as tents) and living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings.
A severely overcrowded dwelling is defined as a house that needs four or more extra bedrooms to house everyone living there adequately. For example a family of 11 (2 adults and 9 children under 18), or 6 unrelated adults, living in a two bedroom flat are severely overcrowded . Of the 105, 000 that were homeless on census night in 2011 39% were living in a severely overcrowded dwelling, making it the biggest category of people experiencing homelessness.
How big is the problem?
Over 20,000 Victorians experience homelessness on any given night.
- families with children
- young people
- older people
- single adults
- people with disabilities
- people in regional and rural Victoria
- people in urban neighbourhoods.
Why do people become homeless?
Homelessness is not a choice.
People who become homeless are often financially disadvantaged and have spent a lifetime paying too much for their housing.
Homelessness typically occurs after a financial or family crisis results in the loss of housing, and households have limited resources with which to find a suitable alternative.
Several structural factors have impacted on the steady increase in homelessness over time:
- Housing is less affordable in Australia than ever before for low income earners.
- Incomes from employment and government benefits and pensions have not kept pace with housing costs.
- The community supports that households need in order to remain well and stable are under-resourced, harder to access and do not always focus on keeping people housed.
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