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Tragic scale of homelessness deaths revealed


A damning series of articles in the Guardian this week, about deaths of people while experiencing homelessness, is tough but necessary reading. You can find them here and here.

Guardian Australia has spent a year investigating 627 homelessness deaths, revealing that Australians experiencing homelessness have an average life expectancy of just 44 years (45.2 for men and 40.1 for women) – more than 30 years lower than the median age at death for the general population.

As Christopher Knaus writes “In many cases, people experiencing homelessness died in ways that were either preventable or directly linked to systemic failures across the housing, health and justice sectors.”

Easily treatable injuries and illnesses are being missed in early stages. Rough sleepers presenting to hospitals as suicidal are being discharged back into homelessness. They’re also often subjected to violent attacks, or “dying needlessly after encounters with police and the justice system on trivial matters, which lead to use of force or deaths in custody”.

As with homelessness in general, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were overrepresented in the number of deaths. Approximately 20% of the 627 reported deaths involved an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, despite making up only 3.2% of the general population.

This human tragedy is something Council to Homeless Persons has actively campaigned for years to rectify, including funding research by Dr Mark Furlong (quoted in these articles) which was presented in the August 2021 issue of Parity magazine: “Preventing homelessness deaths”.

Australia needs more social housing to break this cycle of suffering and death – and that need is especially urgent in Victoria, which lags far behind other states and territories in the proportion of social housing it provides. We also need the death of people experiencing homelessness to be recorded.

As CHP’s Chief Executive Officer Deborah Di Natale told the Guardian, we can’t permit stigma and false assumptions to allow these unnecessary deaths to continue: “…these people are loved by their families, their communities and their [support] workers,” she says.

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