A new study has found that nearly 2.4 million Australians have experienced homelessness, and that nearly one in ten people have slept rough. These figures contradict popular beliefs that homelessness and in particular rough sleeping, are relatively rare experiences in Australia. They strongly reinforce the need for urgent action at all levels of government.
The RMIT study, carried out by Emeritus Professor Chris Chamberlain and Dr Guy Johnson, investigated two issues – how many people have experienced homelessness and how many have slept rough. According to the study a staggering 15 percent of men and 11 percent of women have experienced homelessness in their lifetimes. This supports the findings of the recent ABS general social survey which found that more than one in ten, or around 13 percent of people aged over 15 have experienced homelessness. The investigation into rough sleeping also revealed disturbingly high figures, with approximately 900,000 men and 500,000 women having slept rough.
The findings of the RMIT study and the ABS general social survey tell a very different story to the Census data. According to Chamberlain, the discrepancy is the largely the result of how Census data is collected. The first problem is with the data being collected in August when it’s cold and people sleeping rough are out of sight, as they find shelter to stay warm. The second problem is that the Census collects ‘point in time data’; it does not ask whether people have experienced homelessness at other times in their lives.
This new information confirms what specialist homelessness service practitioners have understood for some time, namely that the rates of homelessness in Australia are far higher than Census data indicates. Mission Australia recently launched its Action Plan to Reduce and Prevent Homelessness and is calling on all levels of government to increase funding and to guarantee that funding for the next five years. CHP and the sector support Mission Australia’s plan and encourage governments to take action quickly, now that we have solid evidence showing just how big the problem of homelessness is in Australia.