• Homelessness Australia say that migrants make up 30 per cent of the homeless population. (EyeEm/Getty Images)Source: EyeEm/Getty Images
Migrants and Indigenous Australians experience the greatest rates of poverty, compared to any other group in Australia. Jo Hartley asks why.
Jo Hartley

17 Oct 2016 - 2:25 PM  UPDATED 17 Oct 2016 - 3:29 PM

Australia is ranked as one of the most expensive places to live in the world, and, consequently, much of the population is struggling to keep from falling below the poverty line.

However, it seems that our culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities are struggling more than Australian-born residents.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, CALD communities are disproportionately disadvantaged in areas such as employment and access to government services. 

Migrants' earning potentials are lower, and those who arrive in the country with little or no English are particularly susceptible to poverty.

Figures show that the unemployment rate of recent migrants is 8.5 per cent, in comparison to 4.6 per cent among Australian-born residents.

Similarly, migrants' earning potentials are lower, and those who arrive in the country with little or no English are particularly susceptible to poverty.

A report, conducted by the Australian Council of Social Services, found that poverty rates amongst migrants whose first language isn’t English is 18.8 per cent, compared to 11.6 per cent of those who are Australian born.

The rate of poverty amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians is 19.3 per cent.

“Homelessness is a big problem across the whole country,” says Digby Hughes, acting CEO at Homelessness NSW.

While New South Wales has a current rate of 40 homeless people per 100,00 of the population, the worst area is the Northern Territory, with 730 homeless people per 100,00 of the population.

“The biggest growth in homelessness is severely overcrowded dwellings, where there are four or more bedrooms short of what is needed,” says Hughes.

In Sydney itself, the worst affected areas are the Indigenous communities within Blacktown and Mount Druitt.  This then extends in an arc from Bankstown, Liverpool and Campbelltown.

“This is mainly first generation migrants and is predominantly due to housing unaffordability,” says Hughes.

National figures from Homelessness Australia show there are currently 105,237 people in Australia who are homeless: 25 per cent of these are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and 30 per cent are born overseas.


Homes for the homeless: where are all the shelters?

But with homeless shelters already fit to bust, the future doesn’t look very bright. State and federal governments spent more than $700 million in the last financial year on specialist homelessness services. 

However, a Productivity Commission report released earlier this year found that one in four people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness are turned away from accommodation services each day because they are already full.

With limited places already available, some CALD people are further disadvantaged because of language barriers and cultural or religious beliefs.

For example, Hughes says Muslim women can struggle to find shelters because their religion prohibits them from sharing with men.

“While CALD communities experience the same issues as the general population, their situation can be exacerbated by language issues, family and domestic violence, problem gambling and alcohol and drug use,” says Hughes.

“We’re also seeing some increase in numbers of women on spousal visas becoming homeless as the relationship falls over.”

A lack of funding also means that homelessness services aren’t always able to provide culturally appropriate support such as translation or bi-lingual services. 

Similarly, a lack of awareness or access to support services increases the difficulty of the situation for CALD people.

Dr Mark Glazebrook is the CEO of Project New Dawn, a national homelessness organisation that provides a unique wraparound solution to homelessness through housing and employment.

He says that refugees, migrants and Indigenous people are at a greater disadvantage when it comes to understanding how the ‘system’ works. 

“Traditionally support for people from CALD communities has extended to interpreting, translation services and staff awareness,” he says. 

“However, whilst this is important, we believe that greater attention should be focused on helping people navigate the often-confusing array of services and processes dedicated to homelessness.”

“We sometimes forget that migrants may have had traumatic experiences with government or authority and it’s up to us, the support agencies, to appreciate and adjust to these sensitivities and provide them with knowledge and confidence,” he says.

“While CALD communities experience the same issues as the general population, their situation can be exacerbated by language issues, family and domestic violence, problem gambling and alcohol and drug use.”

Dr Glazebrook admits that housing will continue to be a challenge for people from culturally diverse backgrounds in the future. 

However, he’s optimistic that many more options will become available if we start becoming more innovative about how housing is sourced.

“We need to think about continuing to repurpose commercial property for housing or, as in Project New Dawn’s case, access private housing for homeless people through the generous support of employer partners,” he says.

“Focusing on a more innovative wraparound model, such as ours, seeks to reduce much of the complexity surrounding access to housing and employment.

“In turn, this enables people to put their efforts into what’s important - doing well in their new job and setting up their new home."


October 17 marks the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Find out more about what this day means and how you can help the fight against global poverty.

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