Which Way Home? A New Approach to Homelessness

Increasing homelessness is a source of national shame.

Every night 100,000 Australians, including 10,000 children under the age of 12, are homeless.

Around half rely on the hospitality of friends, nearly a quarter bed down in boarding houses and caravan parks, and the rest rely on emergency accommodation or sleep rough under bridges, in cars or in parks.

It is difficult to believe that over the past decade, when national prosperity has soared, homelessness has increased.  This should be a source of national shame—and a spur to action.

Reductions in the rates of homelessness can be achieved but not overnight. The causes and consequences of homelessness are complex. Economic factors such as unemployment, limited housing supply and neighbourhood disadvantage sit alongside individual triggers such as family breakdown, drug addiction, domestic violence and mental illness.

For older people, homelessness often involves mental illness and poor health, for men, family breakdown, unemployment, and gambling. For women, homelessness often follows domestic violence, child abuse or sexual assault. For children, homelessness brings trauma, and affects school routines and friendships. Worse still, experiencing homelessness as a child makes adult homelessness more likely.

As a nation we have failed to address these issues. Our response to homelessness is not nationally coordinated or strategically focused. While there are excellent programs, many lack sufficient scale or coordination to adequately address the multiple causes and effects of homelessness.

The cost of homelessness to individuals and their families is large. The cost to society of our failure to reduce homelessness is even greater. While tackling homelessness involves additional investment, not tackling homelessness will only cost more.

The task of reducing homelessness will take some time. We have, however, a good understanding of homelessness and a unique opportunity to act. This means we are now better placed than ever before to succeed.

In January 2008 the Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, and the Minister for Housing, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, announced the development of a comprehensive long-term plan to tackle homelessness as a matter of national priority.

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