Homelessness Week 2021 highlights big funding cuts and health impacts

Jeremy Lasek – PHAA


The 2016 Census revealed in Australia there are over 116,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night, that was up 5% on the 2011 Census. Next week’s Census will give us a more up-to-date picture.

Worryingly, nearly 60% of homeless people in 2016 were aged under 35 years, but the number of homeless people aged 55 years and above has steadily increased over the past three Censuses, from 12,461 in 2006, to 14,581 in 2011 and 18,625 in 2016 (a 28% increase between 2011 and 2016).

This week, Homelessness Australia, decried a one-billion-dollar Federal Government cut in spending in the areas of homelessness and housing in the past decade. This, at a time when house prices have increased by 50%, and rents by 31%.

Homelessness Australia Chair, Jenny Smith, said ‘the high cost of rents, and people’s inability to afford those rents, is the biggest issue driving up homelessness in Australia. The second biggest issue is the plight of women and children fleeing homelessness in Australia.’

She called on the Federal Government to recognise that everyone needs a home and to work with states and territories to commit to build more social housing.

Ms Smith said the final report of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Homelessness Report released this week, vindicates the call for the Federal Government to deliver a national strategy on homelessness and highlights the important role the Government must play in order for Australia to be a place where everyone has access to a safe, secure home.

‘The Federal Government holds the trigger on the critical policies that drive homelessness up, or down,’ she said. while welcoming the parliamentary committee’s recommendation for the government to develop and implement a 10-year national homelessness strategy in consultation with the states and territories.

‘A 10-year strategy could be a game-changer if it tackles the big issues driving homelessness, like the rate of JobSeeker, the level of social housing funding, and the adequacy of Commonwealth Rent Assistance,’ Ms Smithy said

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) says homelessness can expose people to violence and victimisation, result in long-term unemployment and lead to the development of chronic ill health.

‘Some health problems can cause a person to become homeless. For example, poor physical or mental health can reduce a person’s ability to find employment or earn an adequate income. Alternatively, some health problems are a consequence of homelessness, including depression, poor nutrition, poor dental health, substance abuse and mental health problems. Recent studies have also found that people experiencing homelessness also experience significantly higher rates of death, disability and chronic illness than the general population (Australian Human Rights Commission 2008),’ the AIHW said.

In her 2020 Douglas Gordon Oration, UWA Associate Professor, Lisa Wood told the PHAA Prevention Conference ‘on nearly every measure of health inequality, people experiencing homelessness are vastly over-represented. This is grimly seen in an average life expectancy of fewer than 48 years. Multiple chronic health conditions are common, many preventable. Among people experiencing homelessness, we see the most extreme examples of poor health driven by adverse social, economic and often traumatic circumstances’.

‘That many of our public health and prevention success stories in Australia have left behind this often-invisible group is confronting: the majority still smoke, mental health, and alcohol and other drugs (AOD) issues are pervasive, and accessibility to preventive screening and oral healthcare is sparse. Even COVID-19 has starkly shown the heightened vulnerability of people who are homeless.’ Dr Wood said.



Photo Credit – Homelessness NSW

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