Homelessness in Australia is a significant social issue. A majority of people experiencing homelessness long-term in Australia are found in the large cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. It is estimated that on any given night approximately 105,000 people will be homeless[1] and many more are living in insecure housing, "one step away from being homeless".[2] A person who does not obtain any shelter is often described as sleeping 'rough'.

A person is considered to be homeless in Australia if they:

  • do not have access to safe, secure adequate housing, or, if the only housing they have access to damages, or is likely to damage, their health.
  • are in circumstances which threaten or adversely affect the adequacy, safety, security, or affordability of their home.
  • have no security of tenure – that is, they have no legal right to continued occupation of their living area.

2011 census homelessness figures

There were 105,237 people experiencing homelessness in Australia on census night in 2011. This equated to 1 in 200 Australians,[3] and represented an increase of 17% from the 2006 census, with the rate of homelessness increasing from 45 per 10,000 to 49 per 10,000.

People who are homeless in Australia are classified into one of six categories. These are:

  • improvised dwellings, tents, sleepers out
  • supported accommodation
  • people staying with other households
  • boarding houses
  • other temporary lodgings
  • severely overcrowded dwellings.

56% of people experiencing homelessness on census night were male and 44% female. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were over-represented in homelessness data making up 25% of the homeless population, compared to 2.5% of the Australian population. 30% of those experiencing homelessness were born overseas above the % of the Australian population.

From 2006 to 2011 the number of people sleeping 'rough' decreased from 9% of the homeless population to 6%. There was also a significant increase (23%) in the number of people staying in homelessness services.

2016 census homelessness figures

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. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said 116,000 people were homeless on census night in 2016, representing 50 homeless people per 10,000.[4]


Reason Percentage
Domestic and family violence 25
Financial difficulties 15
Housing stress 13
Inappropriate or inadequate dwellings 10
Relationship or family breakdown ~6
Housing affordability stress ~5
Source: AIHW Specialist Homelessness
Services data collection (2011–12)

There are many causes of homelessness.[5][6][7] The reasons for homelessness are many and varied and each individual's path to homelessness is different and unique. Some other reasons for homelessness are: addictions, exiting care (foster care system or prison system), barriers facing refugees, debt, disability, unemployment, lack of support, blacklisting, poverty, and being kicked out of home.[citation needed] Some of the current homeless population in Australia were previously in large-scale residential institutions for the mentally ill. Deinstitutionalisation of people with mentally illnesses began in Australia during the 1980s, and most now live in the general community.


It has been estimated that a single homeless person costs the government $30,000 per year.[8]

Government responses

The Road Home - Federal Government White Paper

The Road Home[9] was launched by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in December 2008.[10] This White Paper sets an ambitious target to halve homelessness by 2020 and offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it.[11] Launching the White Paper, Kevin Rudd said, referring to the 105,000 homeless people in Australia "A country like this should not have this problem, so large and longstanding, without being addressed, It's time we had a decent solution to this problem that has been around for a long time."[12]

The Road Home focuses future effort and investment into three strategies:

  1. Turning Off the Tap: Early intervention services to prevent homelessness.
  2. Improving and expanding services which aim to end homelessness: Ensuring that Services are more connected, integrated and responsive to achieve sustainable housing, improve social and economic participation and end homelessness for their clients.
  3. Breaking the Cycle: Ensuring that people who become homeless are able to quickly move through the crisis system into stable housing with the support they need so that homelessness does not recur.

Affordable housing

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG)'s National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) subject to provisions of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations, defines and measures housing and homelessness services for the Commonwealth and the States and Territories.[13] In 2008 Rudd announced that NAHA would "deliver more longer-term housing for Australians who are homeless, more public and community housing and build and renew run down and overcrowded housing for Indigenous Australians living in remote areas."[9] NAHA's manadate includes a) social housing; assistance to people in the private rental market; support and accommodation for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness; and home purchase assistance; b) (b) working towards improving coordination across housing related programs to make better use of existing stock and under-utilised Government assets and achieve better integration between housing and human services, including health and disability services; and c) reducing the rate of homelessness."[13]

National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH)

Since 2008, the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) was formed to allow the Commonwealth Government to provide matching funding to hundreds of homelessness services.[14] In response to the federal funding, states and territories typically match the Commonwealth’s contribution. The total annual NPAH funding is around $250 million per year which is directed to around 800 homelessness services around Australia.[15]

In 2016, homelessness services across Australia began a #SaveNPAH campaign to ensure the Australian Government renews the funding package past 2017. The services stated that without the funding, services would be forced to cut back on essential programs and thousands of Australians would become homeless.[16][17][18] The #SaveNPAH campaign succeeded in part, with the Australian government committing to a one year extension of funding.[19][20]

State Government initiatives

In South Australia, the State Government of Premier Mike Rann (2002 to 2011) committed substantial funding to a series of initiatives designed to combat homelessness. Advised by Social Inclusion Commissioner David Cappo and the founder of New York's Common Ground program, Rosanne Haggerty , the Rann Government established Common Ground Adelaide [21] building high quality inner city apartments (combined with intensive support) for "rough sleeping" homeless people. The government also funded the Street to Home program and a hospital liaison service designed to assist homeless people who are admitted to the Emergency Departments of Adelaide's major public hospitals. Rather than being released back into homelessness, patients identified as rough sleepers are found accommodation backed by professional support. Common Ground and Street to Home now operate across Australia in other States.

Ask Izzy

Ask Izzy is a mobile website which connects people experiencing or at risk of homelessness to essential services such as a meal, housing, support and counseling. The website was developed by Infoxchange in partnership with Google, REA Group and News Corp. [22][23]

Youth homelessness

In the mid-1970s, evidence began to emerge that the traditional homelessness population predominantly consisting of middle aged or older males was changing. Instead, younger people began emerging in surveys of the homeless population. This change is attributed to the disproportionately high unemployment rates among young people at the time, inadequate unemployment benefits (particularly for teens who had left school), burgeoning inflation rates and increasing housing and rent costs. This change in demographic increased the demands made on the non-government welfare sector to accommodate homeless youth.[24]

According to the 2006 census, there were over 44,000 young people experiencing homelessness. This means that about 43% of the Australian homeless population are infants, children or youth under the age of 25. A particularly common form of youth homelessness in Australia is "couch surfing" whereby the person experiencing homelessness relies on the support of friends to sleep on their couch or floor.[25] Relationship breakdown and family conflict are often cited as common instigators of youth homelessness.[26]

Youth Homelessness Matters Day is an annual event run across Australia that highlights youth homelessness and associated issues.[27]

Youth refugees

Youth refugees started appearing in Australia in the 1970s as a community based response to youth homelessness.[28]


Post traumatic stress disorder and homelessness

A 2006 University of Sydney study of Sydney's homeless found a very high incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst the homeless.[31][32][33][34]

Awareness days

  • Youth Refuge Week – occurred in the 1980s, was covered in the Australian press, with youth refuges participating in events.[35][36][37]
  • Youth Homelessness Matters Day – begun in 2005, coordinated by the National Youth Coalition for Housing.[38]
  • Homeless Persons' Week – originating from various churches and missions running winter vigils to remember people who had died on the streets, in 2007, Homelessness Australia began coordinating the event as a national awareness week.[39]

See also

Mental health:


  1. ^ McLennan, Leah (2010-06-17). "CEOs brave cold to help homeless". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  2. ^ #HomelessnessCounts during Homelessness Week 2016, 1-7 August
  3. ^ "2049.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011". abs.gov.au. 
  4. ^ http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-14/homelessness-in-australia-jumps-14pc-over-five-year-period/9547786
  5. ^ "Homelessness is a Human Rights Issue". Australian Human Rights Commission. 
  6. ^ Forell, S; McCarron, E; Schetzer, L (2005). "No home, no justice? The legal needs of homeless people in NSW". Law and Justice Foundation of NSW. 
  7. ^ "There is no one definition of homelessness". Homelessness Australia. Archived from the original on 2012-08-10. 
  8. ^ Robinson, Natasha. “Homelessness hits top suburbs as housing affordability takes its toll.” The Australian. September 23, 2014. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/homelessness-hits-top-suburbs-as-housing-affordability-takes-its-toll/news-story/a163948db06b8e4c45c71ca48f154691 (Retrieved February 3, 2017).
  9. ^ a b The Road Home: A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness (PDF) (Report). Canberra, Australia: Homelessness Taskforce, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. 2008. p. 92. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 May 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "Rudd's 2020 homeless pledge welcomed". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2008-12-21. 
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-09-02. Retrieved 2010-06-24. 
  12. ^ "Rudd's vow to homeless called bold, visionary". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2008-12-22. 
  13. ^ a b National Affordable Housing Agreement (PDF) (Report). The Council of Australian Governments. 
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-10-20. Retrieved 2016-12-07. 
  15. ^ "National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness - Department of Social Services, Australian Government". 
  16. ^ "NPAH Campaign". 
  17. ^ "'Tsunami Of Homelessness' Feared As Underfunded Services Plead For More Cash". 
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-08. 
  19. ^ http://chp.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/NPAH-extension-media-release-161209.pdf
  20. ^ Karp, Paul (8 December 2016). "Coag agenda: Turnbull gives ground on homelessness and family violence" – via The Guardian. 
  21. ^ "Common Ground". commongroundadelaide.org.au. 
  22. ^ GILLETT, CHRISTOPHER. "Ask Izzy app connects the homeless to food, shelter and health services." The Herald Sun. January 29, 2016.
  23. ^ Wright, Tony. "Prime Minister Turnbull meets Kent and spruiks new website for homeless." The Sydney Morning Herald. Jan. 29, 2016.
  24. ^ Fopp, Rodney. "Long-term accommodation for young people." National Youth Affairs Research Scheme. 1990.
  25. ^ Morello, Vincent (2010-04-13). "Couch Surfing Risky for Homeless Youth". www.smh.com.au The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  26. ^ Seymour, George (2010-04-09). "The Young and the Homeless". www.onlineopinion.com.au On Line Opinion. Retrieved 2010-04-23. 
  27. ^ "Welcome from NYCH". youthhomelessnessmatters.net. 
  28. ^ Barratt, Sam. "Youth refuge: Towards diversity and specialisation?." Parity 25, no. 3 (2012): 38.
  29. ^ Coffey, Michael. "What Ever Happened to the Revolution? Activism and the Early Days of Youth Refuges in NSW." Parity. Volume 19, Issue 10. Another Country: Histories of Homelessness. Council to Homeless Persons. (2006): 23-25.
  30. ^ Coffey, Michael. "What Ever Happened to the (R)evolution?: Take 2 Revisiting Activism and the Early Days of Youth Refuges in NSW." Undercurrent No. 1. (2008): 5-12.
  31. ^ Rossmanith, Kate (16 May 2006). "Study reveals stress factor in homelessness". University of Sydney. 
  32. ^ Taylor, Kathryn; Louise Sharpe (1 March 2008). "Trauma and post traumatic stress disorder amongst homeless adults in Sydney" (PDF). Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 42 (3): 206–213. doi:10.1080/00048670701827218. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-04-19. 
  33. ^ Lee, Stuart; et al. (June 2010). "Mental Health Care on the Streets: An Integrated Approach". Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 44 (6): 505–512. 
  34. ^ Huey, Laura Huey; Fthenos, Georgios; Hryniewicz, Danielle (July 2012). ""I Need Help and I Know I Need Help. Why Won't Nobody Listen to Me?" Trauma and Homeless Women's Experiences with Accessing and Consuming Mental Health Services". Society and Mental Health. 2 (2): 120–134. doi:10.1177/2156869312445287. 
  35. ^ "The Sydney Morning Herald from Sydney, New South Wales on March 15, 1982 · Page 7". 
  36. ^ "The Sydney Morning Herald from Sydney, New South Wales on March 15, 1982 · Page 9". 
  37. ^ "Annual Report 1982" (PDF). Caretakers Cottage. 
  38. ^ "National Youth Coalition for Housing - NYCH". 
  39. ^ "Homelessness Week". 

External links