Thursday, December 2, 2021

We identified who is most at risk of homelessness and where they are. We must act now, before it’s too late

Being homeless is painful. This affects not only housing but whether or not one can get enough food, feel safe and maintain relationships with friends and family. The physical and mental health effects often persist long after people are rehabilitated, and the costs to the community and government are high.

Much of the current response to homelessness is focused on supporting people right after they become homeless or just before they do.

However, in order to really reduce homelessness, we need to prevent people at risk from becoming homeless in the first place. It is similar to turning off a tap at the source to stop the flow of a flood.

Our recent research, published by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, gives important insights into how we can do this.

Read more: 400,000 women over the age of 45 in Australia are at risk of homelessness

Who is at risk of homelessness?

In our study, people were considered to be at risk of homelessness if they lived in rental housing and were experiencing at least two of the following:

  • Low income

  • Sensitivity to discrimination in the housing or job markets

  • Fewer social resources and support

  • need support to access or maintain living conditions due to significant poor health, disability, mental health issues or problematic alcohol and/or drug use

  • Rental stress (when low-income households put more than 30% of their income towards housing costs).

From here, it often doesn’t take much time for people at risk to be pointed to actual homelessness.

We combined data from two sources: the Household, Income and Labor Mobility in Australia (HILDA) Survey and the 2016 Census to estimate the number, profile and geography of the Australian population at risk of homelessness. We estimated the size of the population at risk at the national and small area (SA2/suburb) level.

We found that between 8.5% and 11.7% of the total population aged 15 years and above were at risk of homelessness. It is between 1.5 and 2 million people.

These numbers are large, but should not be surprising. In the nine years between July 2011 and July 2020, approximately 1.3 million people received assistance from specialist homelessness services (agencies that provide support to people experiencing homelessness).

It often doesn’t take much time to tip people at risk of actual homelessness.

Who is at risk of homelessness?

Compared to the national population, those at risk of homelessness are more likely to:

  • Woman

  • My country

  • living alone or in a single parent’s household

  • Low income

  • unemployed or out of the labor force

  • In receiving income support payments.

They are more likely to identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and report fair or poor health.

Those at risk have lower levels of education and are more likely to report difficulty paying bills and rent on time.

They are more likely to experience rental stress and forms of physical deprivation such as skipping meals and being unable to heat their home.

A third are in the care of children.

where are they?

The highest rates of homelessness risk (population per capita) are usually found in remote areas and small areas of capital cities.

However, the greatest number of people at risk of homelessness are located in the capital cities on the east coast of Australia. These high numbers extend far beyond the city’s interior and suburbs.

In many states (Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, and South Australia), high rates of homelessness are widespread in greater capital cities and regional areas.

In Victoria, however, the risk is concentrated in Greater Melbourne.

And in the northern region, the risk is highly concentrated in remote areas.

We identified who is most at risk of homelessness and where they are. We must act now, before it's too late
Homelessness risk (rate per 10,000 people), unit-level SA3 estimate.
Batterham et al, 2021

prevention of homelessness in australia

Our findings suggest that Australia urgently needs more rental housing specifically targeted at low-income and at risk of homelessness.

Our groundbreaking data on the risk of homelessness can help state and territory governments as well as local governments decide where this housing will be most effective at reducing the risk of homelessness.

Australia also needs more private rental access programmes, which provide ongoing subsidies and financial assistance to those at risk of homelessness with rent arrears. They also provide advocacy assistance in negotiations with landlords.

Given that Indigenous Australians are over-represented in at-risk and homeless populations, particularly in remote areas, we need targeted support developed in consultation with Indigenous communities.

Those living with a disability or reporting fair or poor health are particularly vulnerable. State and regional governments have a clear role to play in ensuring access to health and disability support, especially for low-income people.

Key priorities for the federal government and agencies include:

  • Income support payments and increased levels of Commonwealth rent assistance

  • Increase in the wages of the lowest-paid workers;

  • raising funds for the construction of social and affordable housing, and;

  • Playing a coordinating role in primary prevention policy through a National Housing and Homelessness Strategy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that homelessness can be closer than many people think – especially after a sudden loss of employment or a health crisis.

Now that we know who is at risk of homelessness and where they are, it is time for governments to act.

Read more: Corona virus puts casual workers at risk of homelessness unless they get more support

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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