As experts and policymakers gather for Homelessness Week, we take a closer look at common myths and misconceptions about some of our most vulnerable citizens.
Guy Johnson, Australia’s first Professor of Urban Housing and Homelessness, draws on the most recent Census data to break down seven myths about homelessness.
Myth 1: Most people experiencing homelessness sleep on the streets
Rough sleepers are the most visible face of homelessness but they represent only a small fraction (about 1 in 12) of the homeless population.
Most people experiencing homelessness, particularly women with children, go out of their way not to be noticed, staying with friends, in emergency accommodation or living out of their cars.
Myth 2: Most people experiencing homelessness are drug addicts or alcoholics
About 60 per cent do not have a drug or alcohol problem and of those that do, the majority develop this after they become homeless. This is a troubling statistic that highlights the associated risks of homelessness.
Myth 3: Most homeless people have mental health problems
About one third of Australia’s homeless have serious mental health issues. Similar to drug and alcohol statistics, up to half of these people developed their mental health problems after becoming homeless.
Myth 4: Most homeless people break the law
Statistically, homeless people are actually more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. This highlights the increased vulnerability that comes with being homeless.
Myth 5: Giving to people who are begging only encourages homelessness
There is no evidence to support the claim that giving incentivises homelessness. People experiencing homelessness want safe and secure housing, the same as everyone else.
Myth 6: Most of those who are homeless choose to be
The majority are poor and have experienced a health problem or a financial shock, or cannot stay at home because of violence or abuse and cannot afford alternative accommodation.
Myth 7: There’s enough emergency accommodation
Australia does have some crisis and emergency accommodation but agencies are being overwhelmed by demand as numbers continue to grow.
Professor Guy Johnson is a panel member during the two day National Homelessness Conference (6 -7 August) that launches a week of activity designed to raise awareness, and promote solutions to, Australia’s growing homelessness problem.
Johnson leads the partnership between RMIT and Victorian housing organisation Unison which is drawing on academic research and street smarts to improve the lives of 650,000 Australians facing housing issues.
Story: Grace Taylor