About Homelessness

The Mercy Foundation

The Mercy Foundation works to end homelessness. The key drivers of homelessness in Australia are poverty and a lack of supply of appropriate, affordable housing. Australia is a wealthy nation and we believe that nobody in our country should endure the traumatic experience of homelessness, especially chronic homelessness. Housing and supports solve homelessness.

People counted as experiencing homelessness in Australia

The 2016 Census figures regarding homelessness were released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in March, 2018. In 2016, the total number of people counted as homeless in Australia was 116,427. This does not mean that 116,427 people were living on the streets. People classified as homeless in the ABS census in 2016 were:

Rough sleepers (see below) 8,200
Staying in supported accommodation services 21,235
Staying temporarily with other households 17,725
Living in boarding houses 17,503
Living in severely overcrowded dwellings 51,088
In other temporary lodgings 678
Total 116,427

Rough Sleepers

In Australia people who are counted as homeless include those who have no accommodation or shelter at all and may be sleeping in streets, parks, in squats (derelict properties) or in cars (often referred to as ‘rough sleepers’). The people in this situation form a relatively small proportion of the total number of people who are counted as homeless in Australia. In the most recent census by the ABS, this group of people experiencing homelessness totalled 8,200 (or 7% of the total number of people counted as homeless). The Mercy Foundation believes this is a completely solvable problem.

Causes of Homelessness

Poverty and unaffordable housing are the primary causes of homelessness. Australia has a shortage of affordable housing, especially in capital cities.

Permanent, affordable housing solves homelessness for the majority of individuals and families experiencing homelessness. However, there is a smaller number of homeless people who have additional support needs due to illness or disability. As well as needing affordable housing, they may also need ongoing health care and other community support to help end their homelessness.

Ending Homelessness in Australia

For most people, affordable, appropriate housing solves homelessness. Although offering food and short term shelter to homeless people are well meant and often needed types of assistance, on their own they won’t end homelessness in our nation. Ensuring an adequate supply of affordable and public housing, appropriate community support services and job opportunities are the long term answers to ending homelessness.

Housing First

The simplicity of Housing First

Housing First is an approach or methodology for assisting homeless people to access permanent housing with support as needed. It is based on the idea that people need a stable and secure home before anything else such as employment, community connections or better health care. A safe home is central to everyone’s lives. So, when someone has complex needs, it seems ludicrous to require them to jump through multiple hoops before they might eventually get into stable, affordable, permanent housing. We don’t ask this of most of our population, why do we continue to ask it of people in poverty who have additional health and support needs?

‘Housing First’ is based on a number of elements. These include:

Housing is provided as quickly as possible for people experiencing chronic long-term homelessness.

People do not have to be assessed as ‘housing ready’ which is a criterion regularly used that requires homeless people to first transition through a support service or temporary housing option and/or to undertake independent living skills training and assessment. Whilst this is a valuable objective of not setting people up to fail in their tenancies, it is not substantiated by evidence.

People are provided with adequate and appropriate support services in their home such as healthcare, training, employment opportunities and social inclusion. Whatever level of ongoing support needed, is provided.

People with alcohol or other drug addictions can access housing. Unlike Housing First, many other housing models require a transitional period in a care environment that may also require a period of abstinence from alcohol and/or other drugs. Most Housing First models do not require this and people will be able to access housing regardless of their substance use issues. In the first instance there will be support to try to manage it better and over the longer term, support to understand it, reduce or even to cease it. There is evidence accumulating that once people are in a stable housing situation they are in a better position to try and tackle their addictions.

Housing First is not Housing Only (that’s called Rapid Re-housing). Housing First simply ensures that people who have experienced long term homelessness are provided with housing. First. It doesn’t mean they are only provided with housing. Some people will have serious and permanent support needs and this should be provided (see page about Permanent Supportive Housing). Some people may just need permanent housing, but short term ‘transitional’ support as they move back into housing. Some people may have no additional needs and just need housing. This approach is often called ‘Rapid Re-Housing’ and it is more cost effective than crisis accommodation then transitional housing and followed eventually by permanent housing.

Benefits of Housing First

Studies of Housing programs around the world reveal that tenants engaged in Housing First arrangements are:

  1. more likely to stay in their accommodation long term;
  2. have improved health outcomes;
  3. higher employment and training success;
  4. more engaged in the community

compared to more traditional housing programs. Consequently, Housing First programs are more cost effective for governments and service providers.

A study of 225 people in the USA compared the outcomes of those using traditional housing services and those using a Housing First program known as Pathways to Housing. The research found that 88% of those in the Housing First program retained their housing for two years compared to 47% in the other programs (Gulcur et al. 2003).