SVA calls for a comprehensive national policy to address the rising rate of homelessness in Australia

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that the rate of homelessness in Australia rose by 4.6% between 2011 and 2016. It is now estimated that 116,427 people in Australia are experiencing homelessness.

Homelessness in New South Wales saw the biggest jump for a region, rising by 37%, with Queensland and Victoria also seeing rising rates of homelessness. While there was some decline in the Northern Territory, the rate of homelessness in the territory is 12 times that of the national average – the highest rate of homelessness for any state or territory.

SVA is deeply concerned by these figures and is calling for a concerted and resourced approach to addressing homelessness that galvanises public, non-profit and private sector efforts.

SVA CEO Rob Koczkar commented:

‘Not having safe and stable accommodation is often a barrier to educational attainment, sustainable work, good health and wellbeing and strong family and community relationships. Addressing homelessness in Australia requires all levels of government, the private sector and non-profit organisations to work together in a cohesive and coordinated way, drawing on what the evidence says works to improve housing outcomes.’

The biggest contributor to the increase in homelessness came from people living in severely overcrowded homes (increasing by 23%), which is attributed to the increasing number of migrants and refugees experiencing homelessness.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be overrepresented in the number of people experiencing homelessness. On Census night 32% of people experiencing homelessness due to overcrowding were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, despite only making up 3% of the population.

Alarmingly the rate of people ‘sleeping rough’ (living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out) has increased for the first time in four Census collections, rising from 3.2 persons per 10,000 people in 2011 to 3.5 persons per 10,000 people in 2016.

SVA said the current approach to homelessness was too piecemeal to achieve consistent improvements in the homelessness rate among all cohorts, and that solutions across the housing continuum were required.

SVA’s Housing Practice Lead Kobi Maglen commented:

‘The evidence clearly shows the increased cost to government of trying to solve, rather than prevent, homelessness. Resources and investment should be targeted at preventive and early intervention support.

‘The success of the Aspire Social Impact Bond (Aspire SIB) in South Australia demonstrates that there can be economic dividends from investing in the prevention of homelessness through intensive case management. The analysis behind the Aspire SIB found that the average cost to Government of a homeless adult in South Australia amounts to approximately $20,500 each year. A preventive approach is beneficial both to those in need and economically beneficial to governments and society at large.

‘Preventing homelessness also means addressing the underlying causal factors. The most cited reason for seeking help from specialist homelessness services has consistently been domestic and family violence, so efforts to reduce this are essential. Similarly, the provision of safe, adequate and affordable housing in the right locations (including through adequate rent subsidies) will be a preventive measure for some housing issues, particularly in relation to severe overcrowding.’

SVA is a firm advocate of a solution to low cost housing shortages that brings together private investment to build affordable housing stock. There is critical urgency to increase the supply of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned and operated community housing to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in experiencing homelessness.

Kobi Maglen commented:

‘Australia currently has a mismatch between the supply of appropriate capital and the underlying demand for social and affordable housing. Connecting institutional investors to social housing will allow community housing providers access to capital at a more affordable rate, helping to drive much needed supply. While restricted funding is not the only contributor to the chronic shortfall in social and affordable housing stock, improved access to capital is an important piece of the puzzle in addressing the challenge.

‘SVA welcomed the Federal Government’s $63 million commitment to create the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation to help solve this challenge, however an integrated policy response that goes beyond the supply issue is required if rates of homelessness are to decrease.’