Myths and Facts about Homelessness

Myth 1: People choose to be homeless

Fact 1:

People do not choose to be homeless. In order to survive, some people will adapt to their circumstances. This is quite different to making a choice to be homeless.

Homelessness is often the result of many inter-connected factors – some of these are family breakdown, abuse, trauma, disability, addictions and illness. It is always about poverty and a severe shortage of affordable housing.

Homelessness can be very unsafe and many people who experience chronic homelessness are vulnerable. It is important to acknowledge the stress and difficulties inherent in becoming and remaining homeless.

Myth 2: All homeless people live on the streets or in parks

Fact 2:

122,494 people are homeless on any given night in Australia, of that only 15-20% are chronically homeless, and 6% are rough sleepers.[1] The majority of people who become homeless remain so for short periods and have few or no additional support needs. In practice, most homeless people move frequently from one form of temporary accommodation to another, spending occasional nights in the rough sleeper population.[2]

Myth 3: Almost all homeless people are men

Fact 3:

Census night 2021: Males made up 56% of people experiencing homelessness and 44% were females.[3] Women are less likely to sleep rough and their homelessness is less visible.

Myth 4: Why bother solving homelessness?

Fact 4:

Homelessness, especially street homelessness, is very unsafe and detrimental to health. People who experience chronic homelessness have a life expectancy gap of up to 30 years compared to their peers in housing. [4]

It costs significant amounts to sustain someone in a state of chronic homelessness. Use of crisis services, emergency departments, acute hospital admissions, crisis mental health care, detoxification centres as well as police responses, ambulances, court and prison costs all add to the total cost and tragedy of chronic homelessness.

Research has shown that it can cost the same amount or less to provide people with suitable housing and good support to sustain that housing as it does to provide crisis services.[5]

Myth 5: Homelessness can never happen to me

Fact 5:

No one is immune from potentially becoming homeless. Studies have shown that just a few unfortunate events can turn someone’s life around completely. It may be the loss of a partner, an unexpected expense or an eviction at short notice.

Myth 6: All homeless people are addicts

Fact 6:

Some homeless people have addictions to drugs and/or alcohol. They are not the majority. Some people pick up drugs or alcohol after they have become homeless. The majority of people with addictions live in their own home.


1. ABS 2021 Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2021

2. Chamberlain, C., Johnson, G. & Theobald, J. 2007, Homelessness in Melbourne: Confronting the challenge, Centre for Applied Social Research, RMTT University, p.14

3. ABS 2021 Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2021

4. Hwang SW, Wilkins R, Tjepkema M, O’Campo PJ, Dunn JR 2009. Mortality among residents of shelters, rooming houses, and hotels in Canada: 11 year follow-up study. BMJ 2009; 339:b4036.

Maness DL & Khan M 2014. Care of the homeless: an overview. American Family Physician 89: 634–640.

Perry J & Craig TKJ 2015. Homelessness and mental health. Trends in Urology & Men’s Health 6(2):19–21.

Carlisle P. Preventative Health Care Submission to Joint Select Committee Parliament of Tasmania. Submission on behalf of Bethlehem House Inc. Feb 2013.

Aldridge RW, Story A, Hwang SW, et al. Morbidity and mortality in homeless individuals, prisoners, sex workers, and individuals with substance use disorders in high- income countries: a systematic review and meta- analysis. Lancet 2018; 391: 241-250.

5. Reynolds, F. 2008, Churchill Fellowship Report, The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust of Australia, p.8

Witte, E. 2017 ‘The case for investing in last resort housing’, MSSI Issues Paper No. 10, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne.