RMIT University’s Professor Guy Johnson is available to comment on new figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics today showing a worrying increase in homelessness across the nation.
Johnson is Australia’s first Professor of Urban Housing and Homelessness and is a member of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ homelessness reference group.
The latest statistics show the total number of homeless Australians increased by 14% to 116,427 between 2011 and 2016, despite sustained economic growth.
“In a country as prosperous as Australia, this is a disturbing and worrying trend,” Johnson said.
The report shows migrants and the elderly are particularly vulnerable and that rising property costs and a lack of public housing may be to blame, he said.
“Rising housing costs are leaving a growing number of Australians on the edges of home ownership and at risk of becoming life-long renters,” Johnson said.
“This places a large portion of the population in unstable housing, leaving them vulnerable to health and financial shocks.”
Johnson said the latest ABS numbers in part reflect a steady decline in public and community housing.
“Public and community housing are the most important factors preventing homelessness among the chronically disadvantaged,” he said.
“Public housing is particularly effective because it’s affordable and has traditionally offered long term security for precariously housed people.”
The following detailed analysis can be attributed to Professor Guy Johnson:
Despite sustained economic growth homelessness continues to rise.
- On census 116,427 Australians were homeless, a 14% increase from the 2011 census
- Nearly half (44%) were residing in severely crowded dwellings, with about 1 in 5 in supported accommodation, 15% staying in boarding houses, 15% staying with other households and about 7% in improvised dwellings or sleeping rough
The chances of becoming homeless are higher.
- The increase in the size of the homeless population is not just because of population growth – the rate of homelessness has increased to 49.8 people per 10,000, up from 47.6 in 2011
Homelessness in Australia is most common among younger people.
- Overall, 46% of Australians are aged 34 or younger, whereas 59% of the homeless are under 35.
There is some good news.
- The number of homeless children (under 12) declined by 11% from 2011
- The number of homeless youth (12-18) declined by 7% from 2011
But also bad news, particularly for older people.
- Since 2011 the number of homeless aged between 65-74 has dramatically increased by 38% from 4,097 to 5,651
- Of those over 65, one third are women, the same proportion reported in the 2011 and 2006 Census
State and territory performance
The performance of individual states varies.
- Doing badly: In NSW there was a 37% increase in the number of homeless. Worryingly, the rate increased from 39.7 to 50.4 – the highest rate of all states excluding NT
- Treading water: Victoria, Queensland and Tasmanis all report modest increases in the number of homeless people and also the rate of homelessness per 10,000
- Making Progress: NT, WA and ACT all report reductions in the number of homeless people and also the rate of homelessness per 10,0000
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
The story for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is mixed. The bad news is that they are massively over-represented among the homeless.
- 2.8% of Australians are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, but they make up 20% of the homeless
The good news is the number and proportion of homeless Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander continues to decline.
- In 2006 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders accounted for 29% of the homeless, in 2011 they accounted for 26% and in 2016 they accounted for 20%
Despite substantial policy interest (and funding) rough sleeping is on the rise again.
- The number of rough sleepers had been declining in every census since 2001
- In the 2016 census number of rough sleepers increased by 20 per cent from 2011
- 2/3 of those sleeping rough are men
- 1/4 of rough sleepers are indigenous
Migrants are faring badly.
- 28.2% of Australians were born overseas, but they make up 46% of the homeless
- The number of homeless Australians born overseas has jumped by 40% since the last census
Professor Guy Johnson has been involved in the area of housing and homelessness for over two decades.
He is the inaugural Unison Chair of Urban Housing and Homelessness, and is based in RMIT’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies.
Johnson leads the Unison Housing Research Program at RMIT, an industry-led partnership that aims to address the ongoing issue of housing insecurity and homelessness in a way that looks at both the existing failings in the housing system and preventative measures to help alleviate disadvantage.
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