The number of homeless people in Australia jumped by more than 14,000 — or 14 per cent — in the five years to 2016, according to census data which also reveals a “significant” increase in older women on the streets and a growing group living in overcrowded accommodation.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said 116,000 people were homeless on census night in 2016, representing 50 homeless people per 10,000.
The facts on homelessness:
- Tonight 116,427 will be homeless
- That’s a 14 per cent increase in homelessness over 5 years
- Every day, 250 people are turned away from crisis centres across the country
- Homelessness increased in NSW, VIC and QLD
- There was a slight decline in the NT
Homeless people include those sleeping on the streets, in cars, at crisis centres and in overcrowded accommodation.
Paul Jelfs from the ABS said the number of women over 65 who had become homeless in the five years to the 2016 census was significant.
“This is probably related to things like domestic violence, social relationship breakdowns and economic status, where they just don’t have enough money to support themselves, or sufficient superannuation,” he said.
The statistics also showed people aged between 20 to 30 made up a quarter of all homeless.
“There’s some really significant overcrowding in that space,” Dr Jelfs said.
About 8,200 people across the country will be sleeping on the streets tonight, Dr Jelfs said, not including those in crisis accommodation or sleeping in cars or elsewhere.
The figures were no surprise to Jenny Smith, the chair of Homelessness Australia.
“[What] these figures tell us is what we know; homelessness is getting worse in Australia,” she said.
The ‘invisible homeless’
The ABS said the number of people staying in overcrowded places had seen one of the biggest increases.
The 2016 figure was up from 2011 by about 10,000, taking the number of people in overcrowded accommodation to 51,000.
“We’re seeing severe overcrowding in homes where we would need to see an extra four bedrooms in a house to accommodate everyone properly,” Dr Jelfs said.
About 8,200 people across the country will be sleeping on the streets tonight. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
Ms Smith said people in overcrowded accommodation were the “invisible homeless”.
“We can see [homelessness] all around us with the rough sleeping that we see in all our cities and towns and, while it has grown, it’s only 7 per cent of the problem,” she said.
“These figures tell us that more people are sleeping on couches, have uncertain tenure in housing centres and are quadrupled up in severe overcrowded houses.”
She said more needed to be done to increase affordable social housing.
“The costs of renting, paying the bills and putting food on the table just don’t add up,” Ms Smith said.
VincentCare Victoria chief executive John Blewonski called for a national strategy to address homelessness.
“We’ve seen a range of responses by state and local governments but the reality is we need a joined-up strategy,” he said.
“We need that led by the Federal Government stepping up to the plate and really responding to a national strategy that can get the sort of stock on the ground that we need to house the people we’ve been talking about today,” he said.
“We’re certainly aware of crisis — people living in housing crisis, the rough sleepers we see on the streets — but the significant numbers that stand behind those numbers are people who are in need of long-term, safe accommodation which can only be addressed through a national housing strategy.”
Living in car ’embarrassing’
John Koutsintas is one of Australia’s many homeless.
He sleeps in his car and uses the Ozanam Community Centre in North Melbourne regularly so he can have a shower and eat a sandwich made by volunteers.
“It’s frustrating. It gets cold, it gets hot. I can’t move the car so I get parking tickets. It’s embarrassing,” he said.
John Koutsintas has been sleeping in his car for almost a year after his relationship broke down. He showers and eats at the Ozanam Community Centre in North Melbourne. (ABC News: Billy Draper)
His car has been his home since his relationship broke down almost a year ago, and he is waiting to get into public housing.
“I’m at the top of the list and it’s still a two-year wait,” he said.
“I can’t really get a job because I don’t have clothes and I have to come here just to have a shower.”
He said he had been a car detailer for 25 years and he hoped he would be able to get work once he had a fixed address and a roof over his head.