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The number of homeless people keeps rising in Australia. With no clear national plan and a lack of affordable housing, there's no sign of things getting better.
Audrey Bourget

8 Aug 2018 - 10:22 AM  UPDATED 13 Aug 2018 - 7:02 PM

There are more than 116 000 people who are homeless in Australia, a number that has grown by 14% in the last few years.

There are a few reasons why homelessness is rising around the country, but the lack of affordable housing is the most obvious one.

“Rent prices continue to rise. People who have a low income can't afford some of the rent increases we're seeing,” explains Evelyne Tadros, Mission Australia state leader for New South Wales. 

Jenny Smith, the CEO of the Council to Homeless Persons and the Chair of Homelessness Australia, says that Australia doesn't have a national plan to tackle housing affordability: “We don't have any plan for the government to intervene to make sure that there is housing for people on a lower income. We expect the market to take care of it, but we've just had 30 to 40 years of unparalleled prosperity in our country and the market hasn't taken care of it. Governments have gotten out of the business of providing social housing and until they get back in the business of doing that, we will see homelessness continue to increase, and to increase more quickly."

She wants people to understand that issues like family violence and housing affordability cause homelessness, not individual vulnerabilities.

“I think it's very unfortunate that in our community, our vision of homelessness is about individual vulnerabilities, whether people are migrants or are struggling with a disability like a mental health problem or an addiction. This isn't about individuals. If you're poor in our community, it's impossible to see how you can afford housing in our current housing market and the chance of you becoming homeless is very high. This is not about people trying harder, there are just not anywhere near the number of homes that we need at the more affordable end of the market," she says.

Migrants are disproportionally affected by homelessness. 28.2% of Australians were born overseas, but they account for 46% of homeless people. On top of having to deal with the lack of affordable housing, people from CALD backgrounds face more challenges. “They can face additional stresses when settling in Australia, including adjustment to language, culture and education. Some of them might have a lack of understanding of tenancy rights and risk exploitation by landlords,” explains Tadros.

How to get help?

If you are on the brink of homeless or are already homeless, there are ways to get help. Each state has its own organisations. They can help you negotiate with your landlord, find emergency housing or provide a warm meal.

You can find a list of organisations for each state here. There’s also a 24h national helpline for victims of family violence, 1800 RESPECT.

If you prefer speaking in a language other than English, interpreters are available through the Translating and Interpreting Service, and many organisations have bilingual workers.

How to help

If you're lucky enough to have a roof over your head, Smith says that the first thing you can do to help is to be kind.

“The most important thing is that people are kind to people experiencing difficulties, and within that kindness, do what they can within their resources. The other really important thing that people need to do is to ask the question, every time they go to a federal, state or local election, ' Does the party I'm voting for have a housing and homelessness policy?' Do the work to make sure the party they want to vote for has that policy or vote for the party that does have that policy."

To find out more about homelessness services around Australia, visit the Homelessness Australia website.