Modern homelessness in Australia
Michelle, her three children and her partner were homeless for three months before Red Cross helped them to find stable housing.
Having a home is something most of us take for granted, yet around Australia on any given night one in 200 people are homeless*, without a safe, secure place to call their own. Sadly, a quarter of Australians who are homeless are under the age of 18.
Glenda Stevens is CEO of Homelessness Australia, the peak body representing specialist homelessness services. While many of us hear the word 'homelessness' and think of people sleeping on the street, Glenda says this is only part of a much bigger picture.
"The common notion of homelessness is rough sleeping, but they make up only about six per cent of the homelessness population. Most people who are homeless are actually sleeping in severely overcrowded dwellings," Glenda says.
This homelessness may be less visible but has a devastating impact. Glenda says that the cost of losing your housing is huge and that once someone becomes homeless, their problems increase. "Any piece of furniture you may have, all the bits and pieces of living in a house, linen or pots or a table lamp, all disappear," she says. "Also the ability to get a job, or hold one down, get much harder. So the ability to regain a position in the community is greatly impaired."
Even if some form of ongoing accommodation is found, it is often inadequate or inappropriate. "The number of women and children in boarding houses is starting to increase and this is a very scary thought," Glenda says. "There may not be a kitchen to cook, so their nutrition level is generally lower. They're quite often sleep deprived, so their health is suffering, which means they go to school and their ability to concentrate is impaired. It's just the cycle of living in disadvantage."
With your generosity, last year Red Cross supported more than 4,000 people who were either homeless or at risk of homelessness. The assistance we are able to provide not only helps people when they have lost their home, but prevents people from becoming homeless in the first place.
Glenda says that supporting people to maintain their tenancy is extremely valuable as it prevents the chain of negative impacts that losing your housing can cause. "Once someone falls into homelessness it's quite a big step to get back into housing," she says.
When Michelle walked into our Homelessness Services Hub in Townsville, Queensland, her family was sleeping on air mattresses in a dusty garage.
Michelle was 1,350 kilometres away from her home in Brisbane, where she had grown up, was educated and had established her family and career. Her high profile media job in Brisbane had come to an abrupt end while on maternity leave, when she became very unwell with asthma and mental health issues. This collided with relationship conflict and a financial crisis. Before long, mounting debts meant the family was unable to make rental payments. After exhausting their options in Brisbane, they put a few items in storage, loaded a few more into their car and abandoned the rest, then went to stay with Michelle's best friend in Townsville.
"[Red Cross] saw we were in dire need and I had too much to handle by myself," Michelle says. With the support of caseworkers, the family found emergency accommodation and acquired furniture to set up their new home, including whitegoods, beds, a table and chairs.
"They were there, they were understanding and they guided me through the tough parts of it," Michelle says. "Since we moved into the house we have the freedom and the space to calm down and regroup… to start again."
* Australian Bureau of Statistics: Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness, 2012.
** Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: Specialist Homelessness Services 2012-13, 2013.
Photo: Cathy Friel/Australian Red Cross