Tackling homelessness starts with public housing

Tackling homelessness starts with public housing

At the start of Homelessness Week (4-10 August), RMIT experts shed light on the most pressing issues facing Australia’s homeless population.

Homelessness in Australia has increased by 13.7% in five years (ABS Census 2016), but the real depth of the crisis has remained largely uncovered.

This week provides a chance to raise awareness of those who have fallen through the cracks.

Public housing is key

Director of the Unison Housing Research Lab Professor Guy Johnson said underfunding in social housing was one of the biggest problems.

“The evidence we have is unequivocal – public housing is the most powerful factor that prevents homelessness among disadvantaged households,” Johnson, Australia’s first professor of homelessness, said.

“If governments in Australia actually want to reduce the number of people who experience homelessness they should focus and fund programs that prevent it.

“The best way to prevent homelessness is to build more public housing.”

A safe haven

Despite 84,000 people languishing on the waiting list for public housing, the Victorian Government has planned to sell 11 public housing estates under its renewal program.

Researcher and educator at the Centre for Urban Research Professor Libby Porter said the current real estate model flies in the face of the housing crisis, by enabling developers to make a profit on public housing assets.

“Housing is the bedrock of everything we need and do. It provides you shelter or an address if you need to get medication and helps our mental health and wellbeing by giving us stability,” she said.

A home is more than simply a shelter – it provides safety and security.

“We know and have seen the severe risks people who experience homelessness face.

“The most effective way to address this issue is to directly fund and build public housing at a scale that can reduce the waiting list to zero.”

The invisible issue

Deputy Director of the Unison Housing Research Lab Dr Juliet Watson said myths and misconceptions around homelessness have further contributed to the stigmatization of an already marginalised population.

“Most people experiencing homelessness are actually not sleeping rough - they are hidden from view and are more likely to be found couch surfing and staying in emergency accommodation and cheap hotel,” Watson said.

“Social housing has been underfunded for an extended period of time. Without serious investment in social housing, the homelessness situation in Australia will not improve.”


Story: Jasmijn van Houten

05 August 2019


05 August 2019


  • Society
  • Social services

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