Often when we think of homeless people we can’t help but to conjure images of a men with mental health and/or substance abuse issues seeking shelter under bridges, in backstreets, empty buildings and car parks. Although this is true for some people, just six per cent out of the 105,000 people in Australia that experience homelessness are sleeping rough. Others are in specialist homelessness services, boarding houses, hotels or motels, or sleeping on the floor or the couch at someone else’s place.
“Hidden homelessness is harder to count,” Homelessness Australia Chairperson, Narelle Clay AM, said.
“Young people staying temporarily with friends or friends’ families, or women and children bunking down with relatives, don’t always identify themselves as homeless – and neither may their hosts.”
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2011 census data uncovered an increase in homelessness within particular age groups and disadvantaged economic and cultural groups. It found that 60 per cent of Australia’s homeless were under the age of 35, and that 17 per cent were under the age of 10.
In some areas of the country there were large increases of homelessness. The rise of homelessness in Canberra, for example, was a staggering 70 per cent (from 29.3 persons per 10,000 in 2006 to 50 persons per 10,000 in 2011). The more recently homeless in the nation’s capital include retrenched public servants, as well as women made homeless due to relationship breakdown.
The most recent figures also show that 44 per cent of homeless people are women, many of them supporting children. Sadly, the dominant indicator relative to homelessness amongst women is domestic violence. Women are most often forced to leave the family home with their children because it has become a place of danger. When they flee the home, often in dramatic and unplanned circumstances, women have few resources, financial or social, to draw on. Sadly currently, the number of women’s refuges and other forms of shelter fall far short of what is needed. This means that the same women suffer the insecurity and further danger of the street.
As with other categories of the homeless, the actual number of homeless women is most likely higher than current estimates. Women on the run from violent men sometimes go “underground”; forced to live in hiding to protect themselves and their children, they become invisible.
Hidden Homelessness can happen to anyone. It has no respect for status, income or age.
“A life crisis – loss of a job, a partner, or a long-term tenancy – can precipitate someone who has enjoyed secure housing all her life, and who is not accustomed to asking for help, into homelessness,” Homelessness Australia’s Acting CEO Lynne Evans said.
Many Hidden Homeless people have left behind careers, families, skills, and friendships and have led independent, stable lives in the past. Problems such as rising house prices combined with traumatic events, including family breakdown, domestic violence, addiction and mental health problems often lead to their homelessness. Hidden Homelessness means they lose their independent lives and are set on a course away from normal choices and options, rapidly diminishing their chances of rebuilding their lives and regaining stability and independence.
There are many inspirational organisations and individuals working hard to tackle this issue but much more needs to be done to reach a solution to this complex issue.
- Tony Birch “We all need a roof in the rain” – http://rightnow.org.au/writing-cat/feature/we-all-need-a-roof-in-the-rain/