A national report paints a bleak picture of the social and health implications of homelessness in Australian capital cities and the challenges that lie ahead to address these.
The study, released by the Centre for Social Impact at The University of Western Australia (CSI UWA) in partnership with the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (AAEH) drew data from more than 8000 interviews over a seven year period.
It found Australia’s veterans and Indigenous Australians were at significant risk of experiencing homelessness and sleeping rough in Australia’s cities.
It also showed the majority of homeless people in Australia’s cities had low educational attainment – important for housing and employment outcomes, along with elevated rates of serious medical conditions and high levels of interaction with the justice system.
The State of Homelessness in Australia’s Cities report is the first of its kind to draw from lived experience of such a large, cohort of homeless Australians.
The data reveals the state of homelessness but hope on the part of those experiencing homelessness who, in their words, spoke of moving into permanent housing as the number one priority, and then addressing health and substance use issues, safety and legal issues, personal relationships and moving into work.
Study lead and Director of CSI UWA, Professor Paul Flatau said the data revealed that high numbers of veterans are sleeping rough, with many suffering from serious brain injury or head trauma. Professor Flatau said Census data needed to change to provide a clearer picture.
“Unlike in the USA, where the issue of veterans’ homelessness receives widespread attention, there has been limited research into the issue in Australia,” Professor Flatau said.
“Neither Census nor administrative data sources have included veterans’ status. However, more than 5% of homeless people interviewed indicated they were Australian veterans.”
The research showed a much larger proportion of veterans identified as Indigenous (16 per cent), when compared to the proportion of Indigenous Australians in the Australian Defence Force (1.6 per cent).
“Once again, Indigenous Australians were significantly overrepresented overall, with nearly 20 per cent of homeless respondents’ identifying as Indigenous, despite Indigenous people making up only 2.8 per cent of the population. It’s completely unacceptable.” Professor Flatau said.
“In addition, we saw a higher proportion of this group sleeping rough, experiencing imprisonment and youth detention than their non-Indigenous counterparts.”
Karyn Walsh AM, CEO of Micah Projects and chair of the AAEH, highlighted the importance of capturing the state of homelessness as it gives a more comprehensive picture of the people who are living the toughest lives in our society and provides the evidence base for campaigns to end homelessness.
“Australia is a prosperous country and we should maintain a vision for no one to live on our streets,” Ms Walsh said.
The report showed, unsurprisingly, that of all the cohorts of homeless people, those sleeping rough fare significantly worse. This group also reported the longest cumulative time spent homeless with an average of six years, and reported high rates of acute healthcare system use.
Professor Flatau said the costs to Australia’s healthcare system could not be ignored.
“For rough sleepers, when we looked at A&E, ambulance, and inpatient admissions, we estimated that the health care costs alone come in at nearly $25,000 per person every six months for rough sleepers who access these services,” he said.
“Yet we know that with a housing-first approach, integrated with ongoing social and health support and jobs, could result in significant healthcare costs savings over the longer term.”
The State of Homelessness in Australia’s Cities: A Health and Social Cost Too High is available here.