A decade long research collaboration with the Australian Bureau of Statistics is helping to build policymakers a picture of homelessness in Australia.
Improved understanding of homeless demographics improves allocation of funding and support
Our growing population and the ongoing housing crisis is causing more Australians to face homelessness ever year.
While a typical image of homelessness is of someone living on the street, there are many more people without access to suitable dwellings who aren’t as visible.
For welfare agencies and policy makers to ensure the appropriate allocation of funding, they need to understand who the homeless are; numbers, geographic distribution, and other demographics such as age, sex, families and cultural background.
In 1996, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) adopted the ‘cultural definition of homelessness’, proposed by Chris Chamberlain and former RMIT researcher David Mackenzie. RMIT’s Professor Chamberlain explains ‘when people first lose their homes, they don’t necessarily end up on the streets’.
This definition of homelessness recognises people who lose their accommodation and either:
- stay temporarily with friends or relatives, often moving between different households
- stay in emergency accommodation such as hostels for the homeless, refuges and night shelters
- use boarding houses as short-term or longer-term accommodation
- as a last resort, sleep rough or squat in derelict buildings.
People who are long-term homeless often move between all of these categories.
Chamberlain’s Census research and the resulting Counting the Homeless reports were incorporated in a 2008 federal white paper that resulted in policy changes and increased funding towards addressing homelessness.
Despite the increased funding, the numbers of homeless people in Australia is increasing. RMIT is focused on addressing homelessness with a dedicated team of researchers within the Social and Global Studies Centre.