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Issues of Homelessness

This article discuss the needs of homelessness, the legal protection of homelessness and legal constrains of homelessness, policies which address homelessness and their effectiveness. In addition, it also highlights the conflicts of these groups with wider community interests and concerns and how these can be resolved.


Social: The social definition of “the homeless” is difficult to define as many people disagree on whom to include as homeless. Any persons or person who cannot access or is unable to access the primary need of shelter.

Legal: The term “the homeless” refers to those people “without a conventional home and who lack most of the economic and social supports that a home normally affords’.


  • They are people in the community that do not have access to safe or permanent housing
  • Many people become homeless because of unemployment, poverty, lack of affordable housing and discrimination in obtaining housing or employment
  • Youth homelessness is usually linked with family conflict and unemployment
  • Domestic violence is a key factor for homeless women
  • The average age of a homeless woman is 28, for men it is 32
  • Many homeless people face malnutrition, loneliness, poor hygiene, alcoholism, drug problems, low self esteem, loss of dignity, social alienation, trouble with the law and psychiatric disorders
  • The 1996 Census showed there were 105304 people in Australia considered to be homeless
  • Different degrees of homelessness are people: living on the street, in crisis or refuge accommodation which is temporary, living in squats or in unsafe family circumstances, facing extraordinary expenses or with personal crisis.
  • 75% of homeless individuals have at least one mental disorder
  • 93% have experienced at least one extreme trauma in life


Priority of needs:

Most important

  • Access to services and Security and safety
  • Self-esteem
  • Financial support
  • Housing
  • Health
  • Sense of identity
  • Education
  • Employment

Access to services:

  • Homeless people have services available to them but often don’t have the resources to access them eg. They may be entitled to financial payments from Centrelink but may be unable to read or write and therefore don’t apply for them. The homeless need assistance to identify and access a range of services.
  • Also need a permanent address to get payment from Centrelink
  • Often they may access a service or resource but it is already being used to its capacity and therefore can’t provide assistance eg. The Wesley Mission study (May 2001) found that 304000 Australians are turned away from hostels and shelters each year because of insufficient beds.
  • The government and the community sector (council) provide and fund numerous programs to prevent homelessness. These programs provide help to the homeless or those in danger of becoming homeless by providing refuges, shelter, and halfway houses.
  • Charities such as St Vincent de Paul Society provide assistance to the homeless by providing free beds, free meals and food, blankets and jumpers, as well as offering friendship and support


  • Need access to educational programs that develop self esteem and autonomy
  • Need opportunities for skill development in managing resources and problem solving
  • Homeless people may be well educated but are homeless due to circumstances beyond their control
  • They have access to education facilities but might not use them due to low self esteem, poor nutrition (which leads to poor concentration), little or no income for books etc, lack of social support or lack of suitable facilities
  • Centrelink assist homeless youth with education and work eg provides free Tafe, free courses and helps them find jobs
  • Education about services that can help eg, medical help


  • Need access to employment training skills but only after other needs for food shelter and healthcare are met
  • Trouble finding jobs due to low self esteem, poor health, and poor hygiene eg they may smell, have dirty clothes (poor teeth), lack of appropriate clothes, and no money for or access to transport, lack of social support and poor education

Financial support:

  • Difficulties in opening bank accounts or receive government assistance due to having no fixed address
  • Need financial support in order to buy food, clothing and shelter
  • Some may spend money given to them on drug or alcohol abuse
  • Officers visit refuges etc to inform them about access to organisations
  • Organisations offering financial support: Salvation Army, Lifeline, The smith family, Centrelink


  • Homeless due to mental illness, violent relationship, or drug and alcohol addictions
  • Need free health care and health care centers
  • At high risk of health problems eg. Drug/alcohol abuse, sexual health (many turn to prostitution to survive causing risks of STDs, unwanted pregnancies etc), frostbite, respiratory infections, mental illness and depression.
  • Comes second to finding housing work and food


  • Need emergency, short term and more permanent housing
  • Need assistance to access housing and remain in housing
  • Assistance is provided by Government programs and agencies such as the department of Public Housing, Centrelink (provides money for rent) and charities like Matthew Talbot. There are also refuges.

Security and safety:

  • Need a safe place to sleep, and a home
  • Often have little or no security resulting in them being in unsafe conditions on the street, parks and in alleyways
  • Need counseling to help reconcile with families so youth can return to a stable environment
  • Need for education to secure a job


  • Need to be given access to resources that will help them develop positive self esteem eg support groups with other homeless people run by counselors or acceptance from church groups
  • Need for others to recognise and understand that they may appear hostile and aggressive due to bad experiences with support services in the past
  • Need for self worth; if they don’t have self worth they may abuse themselves eg turn to prostitution

Sense of identity

  • Many have poor or no sense of identity due to low self-esteem, unemployment, the
  • Need to be put in a position where they can develop a positive sense of identity eg selling Big Issue magazines
  • With no permanent address they lack an established identity leading to problems gaining social security entitlements

Factors affecting access to resources for the homeless:


  • Many resources/services are age specific eg some refuges will be for one gender only
  • Homeless youth are often dismissed as young enough to go home, therefore less assistance is available
  • Mental illness amongst homeless youth is 10 times higher as they not fully matured and are uneducated about life skills and how to cope with being homeless
  • Half of the homeless are under 25


  • The type and degree of disability will affect the ability to access
  • Can affect mobility
  • Can make communication difficult
  • Those with a disability have a great need for access, but have problems with knowledge of services and physically accessing services independently
  • 75% have at least one mental illness
  • Services which aid the homeless are unable to also deal with a disability


  • Good education can assist with identifying and accessing resources
  • People who are unable to read or write will have great difficulty
  • Youth homeless have limited access to education and funds for schooling as they are unable to receive financial support
  • Education Facilities may be intimidating- especially if the person left school at a young age

Ethnicity and culture

  • Non English speakers will experience great difficulty communicating with services and gaining knowledge about available services
  • Hostels may not be equipped, or culturally sensitive, to deal with prayer time, food specifications, societal discrimination and clothing
  • 9% of homeless are Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander


  • Many services are gender specific eg. Gender specific refuges
  • More males have alcohol problems
  • Females are more likely to seek help
  • Men are less likely to adapt and cope with change
  • More homeless males than females


  • Those who move from place to place will experience difficulty, so will people in rural locations- as there are less resources available/ possibly more prejudice
  • Large cities can fulfill basic needs as they can afford to have soup kitchens, refuges, and have bigger charity organisations
  • NSW has the largest population of homeless

Socioeconomic status

  • Little or no money limits greatly the availability of resources for that person
  • Lack of financial support, address and distrust of authority means little chance of government payments

Government policies and regulations:

  • The SAAP ACT 1994 (Supported Accommodation Assistance Program) provides transitional supported accommodation and related support services, in order to help people who are homeless to achieve the maximum possible degree of self-reliance and independence.
  • MINORS (PROPERT CONTRACT ACT) Allows those under 18 to sign a lease on rental property without a guardian
  • The CRISIS ACCOMMODATION PROGRAM (CAP) constructs upgrades and leases accommodation, provides short term housing for homeless or those in need of transitional support.
  • EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY ACT 1987 promotes equal opportunity in employment regardless of sex, race, marital status, disability, pregnancy, sexuality or age
  • CRIMINAL PROCEDURES ACT Covers those with a mental illness, if they commit a crime. It sets out ways of disposing of criminal cases involving defendants with mental illness or intellectual disabilities.
  • ANTI DISCRIMINATION ACT 1975 aims to prohibit intolerance, prejudice and discrimination in our community on the grounds of race, ender, marital status, physical or intellectual impairment or sexual preference. But doesn’t include social status, which is what homeless are discriminated against.

There are also legislations that work against the homeless for example:

  • VAGRANCY ACT This act carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison or a fine of up to $12 000 for begging. Most people convicted of begging receive a fine of $50 for the first offense, $100for the 2nd and so on.
  • CAMPING OR SLEEPING IN A PUBLIC PLACE It is an offense to fall asleep in a public place during sunset and sunrise
  • TRANSPORT ACT Power to arrest those without a ticket or those interrupting others

Community responsibility:

  • Ensure community services are accessible, appropriate and responsive to the needs of the homeless
  • Review public housing
  • Not to discriminate on the grounds of social status
  • Provide safe, affordable, short and long term accommodation
  • Donate time and aid to community services for the homeless eg working in a refuge or op shop or buying Big Issue
  • Provide rehabilitation Programs eg Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Donate goods rather than throwing them out
  • Educate everyone about the inequities and challenges faced by the homeless

The rights, responsibilities and attitudes of individuals within the homeless to the wider community:

Rights of the homeless:

  • The right to freedom from torture and cruel inhumane and degrading treatment
  • The right to liberty and security of person
  • The right to freedom of expression
  • Adequate housing
  • Access employment despite social status
  • Social security without having proof of ID, a fixed address or opening a bank account
  • Education that is non threatening and accessible

Responsibilities of the homeless:

  • Keep areas where they find shelter clean
  • use available services
  • Try not to break the law
  • Keep to areas which do not obstruct people or traffic
  • Access informal support networks

Attitudes of the homeless:

  • Need to be positive
  • Need to seek and get help – counseling, AA etc
  • Support other homeless- look out for each other and offer support such as telling others of soup kitchens etc
  • Substance abuse impairs their judgment and they do not act responsibly

Societal attitudes towards the homeless:

  • Society has generated many negatives views of the homeless from the media eg. Many believeall homeless are alcoholics, criminals, gangsters, troublemakers, school dropouts, vandals, drug dealers and prostitutes.
  • All homeless people are “sleeping rough”
  • Homeless people roaming around increases the crime rate

Issues of concern for the homeless:

  • Political- powerlessness, those who are powerless are invisible to those that have power and the means to effect change
  • Laws and their inequities- Vagrancy act, summary offenses act, public order
  • Mental health- 75% have at least one mental disorder
  • Violence- Victims of assault and verbal abuse
  • Medicare and health services- the reduction of GP’s who bulk bill will affect availability, lack of opportunities for preventative screening
  • Personal Safety- sleeping in unsafe areas
  • Stable Accommodation- lack of housing commission houses
  • Depression and Suicide- Many homeless people suffer from low self-esteem and self-image
  • Voting- With no stable address, the homeless cant vote, this decreases their power in society to make their opinions valid

Conflict between group and community interests:

  • Begging is the only way to access some resources, however it is illegal
  • Difficulty in accessing financial support
  • Areas of public housing are in areas of higher unemployment with minimal services
  • Local councils removing soup kitchens and park benches
  • Lack of voting power
  • Discrimination based on social status
  • Transport act, Crimes act, Bail act, People will be jailed if fines are not met
  • Public housing funding has been slashed and cost of rental property has increased
  • Primary homeless rely on public spaces to fulfill a range of needs
  • Begging is a way for homeless to access some resources but it is illegal

Power within the group and the community:

  • The homeless have very little power in society (Money + Education + Support = Power)
  • Within society the only power they have is through the voice of larger organisation such as Mission Australia, St Vincent de Paul Society, The Salvation Army and the Council for Homelessness. These communities are their support and voice to the community and the government
  • The Winter Sleep out each year is a major advocate for the homeless
  • The Homeless have “Big Issue” The Big issue is sold on the streets by people who are either homeless or unemployed. The magazine comes out every two weeks and sells for $4, of which $2 goes to the homeless. They pay for the magazines up front themselves.

Positive contributions the homeless make to the community:

  • Do volunteer work to gain skills and show interest in work
  • They have a great spirit and look after each other, sharing places to eat and sleep
  • Some homeless individuals escape the cycle of homelessness and in the process inspire and encourage other homeless people

Extent to which community service groups assist in meeting the needs of the homeless: covered this above- with community organisations that work with them

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