Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: Rising homelessness in Australia

Source: AAP/Dan Peled

At least 100,000 Australians are living homeless this winter. Housing, financial difficulties and domestic violence are the top three causes of homelessness, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. SBS takes you to an inner-city park in Brisbane to explore what it means to be homeless.

It’s a cold Friday evening at Brisbane’s Roma Park. SBS meets 64-year-old Shane Morgan, who is neatly dressed like a backpacker, carrying his essential belongings - a sleeping bag, an insulated mat, and a backpack. He says apart from the low temperature at night, safety is a major concern when living out in the open.

“There is violence on the street from young people walking around. It is quite dangerous to sleep out in the night time.” - Shane

Morgan was travelling in North Queensland when he found out he had kidney failure. He ended up living at the hostel for 12 months and has since been sleeping on the streets for the past six months whilst being on daily dialysis. “I go to hospital and then I’m back out on the street again in the night time” says Morgan.

The 20011 census shows that over 105,000 people are homeless in Australia. 7000 are sleeping rough like Morgan - that’s six per cent of the homeless population, while others could be staying in refuges or crisis accommodation, couch surfing, living in cars, tents, caravan parks, or severely overcrowded dwellings.

"Homeless people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are on the rise." - Mission Australia CEO,  Catherine Yeomans

She’s referring to the 2011 Census data.

“Even then, it was telling us that close to 13,000 persons born overseas are living in severely crowded dwellings, and nearly half of those had arrived within the last 5 years, and about two-thirds had arrived within the last 10 years. The severely crowded households are more likely to be low-income and multi-family households.”  

A 2013 AIHW report indicates that the top six overseas birthplaces of people seeking specialist homelessness services are New Zealand, Sudan, the United Kingdom, Vietnam, Iran, and China. Yeomans says young refugees are six to ten times more likely to be at risk of homelessness with between 500 to 800 without a home across Australia at the moment. With 195,000 households waiting for social housing across the country, she says less than ten per cent of refugees successfully access public housing in the first 18 months of resettlement. 

“Very sadly, refugees face additional issues and this can include trauma disrupted education, and a lack of recognised qualification, and also they’re also often on very limited income support and are restricted in their ability to work.”

Back at Roma Park, Shane Morgan is lining up with other homeless men and women for a twice weekly hot food and grocery handouts from local Muslim youth group Brothers in Need. The group in collaboration with restaurants and other community organisations, has provided over 14,000 meals in the past two years.


Muhammed Ansary is one of the volunteers. He’s often serving food to the new migrants. 

“No jobs, work permit, and as well as, things like, maybe English, and what it is having a second language, they can't speak English, so they can't find a job. What they do is: they don’t have enough money to feed their stomach so they come down to us to get that meal.”

Out on the grass near the distribution stand, Vietnam-born Tai and his partner Michaela, a young woman, in her early 20s, enjoy their hot Indonesian dinner and grocery donations.

“Like, when you get a hot meal from one of the church groups or something, it makes a big difference, like, something in your stomach, something warm, lift up your morale a bit.” - Tai

Discharged from prison just six months ago, Tai receives $268 a fortnight from Newstart Allowance to get back on his feet. Even so, he still ended up living on the street. “I couldn’t afford to stay somewhere, so, you know, you just stay on the street” says Tai.

According to the ABS, 56 per cent of homeless people are male. Almost half of all homeless people in Australia are young people, with 42 percent under 25. Michaela was too upset to share her story but she told SBS there are many women who fear for their safety.

Many of the people Muhammed Ansary comes across are doing it tough. 

“Most of them are living underneath the shade of the trees, as well, nearby the shelter, as well, in the city, so just to keep themselves warm. Some people, they stay at backpackers, so they pay less, but they still struggle on daily life like food and paying bills.”

Alarmingly, women who are 45 plus, renting and single, are the fastest growing group at risk of becoming homeless.

“There’re plenty of girls out here but we’re on our own, like, everyone’s got their groups and stuff, so, when you’re isolated, and you’re a female, it’s pretty hard to get by out here, so, there needs to be more support with women.” - Michaela

“That is because women typically haven’t been in the workforce on a full-time basis for as long as males throughout their life. They’ve got caring responsibilities and typically more part-time or casual work. They might not have the financial resources behind them and so if they don’t own their own home, and they’re in their 40s or 50s in the private rental market, and the individual can no longer afford the rent, then the individual is at high risk of homelessness.” 

She says there is also a need for more bilingual support workers from homelessness service providers. If people find themselves in difficult circumstances, their local migrant resource centres can provide advice and link them to the right support services. 

“There’s also multicultural officers at Centrelink and ethnic officers in many local councils, as well, and, each of these agencies work with providers like ourselves at Mission Australia and other providers” says Catherine Yeomans.

Visit the Homelessness Australia website for more information if you or somebody you know is at risk of homelessness.