`Causes` of homelessness
A number of reports discuss ‘causes’ of homelessness.98
Causes identified include:
- structural causes, including poverty, inadequate affordable housing and unemployment
- government fiscal and social policy causes, including economic and industrial reform, privatisation, availability of public housing and welfare expenditure
- cultural causes, such as dispossession of land and provision of culturally inappropriate accommodation to Indigenous populations
- individual causes, including mental illness, substance and alcohol addiction, gambling, domestic violence and family fragmentation.
While opinion differs as to the relative impact of each of these factors, none can be considered in isolation from the other. The literature and consultations suggest that the experience of homelessness, while differing from person to person, usually involves multiple causes, which cannot be easily separated. While the relative impact of any of these factors will vary from case to case, the chronic shortage of affordable long-term accommodation and the shortage of crisis accommodation for people who are homeless were consistently raised in the literature and our consultations as contributing to and sustaining homelessness.99
Lack of affordable housing in NSW
When a relationship lasts even longer than a public housing waiting list, you know you’re onto a good thing.100
Public housing is a key source of longer term accommodation for people who are homeless or inadequately housed. However, as the following figures indicate, the demand for public housing in NSW far outstrips its supply. The 2002–03 DOH annual report indicated:
- DOH directly managed 129 000 properties, including 12 600 through community housing and 4000 properties on behalf of the Aboriginal Housing Office.
- There were 80 188 households on the waiting list as of 30 June 2003.
- DOH allocated housing to 10 462 new tenants in 2002–03.101
These figures suggest that approximately one tenant for every eight households on the waiting list were housed by DOH in the 2002–03 year. ‘Homelessness’ is one factor that enables a person or family to be placed on the priority housing list. Thirty-seven per cent of the tenants allocated housing in 2002–03 were priority housing applicants.102
Lack of employment/low income
The interdependent relationship between employment and housing is an important consideration in attempts to alleviate or prevent homelessness. Many people become homeless as a result of unemployment, and attaining employment can offer a direct pathway out of homelessness.103
Mackenzie and Chamberlain suggest that the “increase in the number of households below the poverty line is the structural factor underpinning the increase in homelessness over the past two decades”. They state that “some poor households can survive financial crises, because they have relatives or friends who assist them, but a minority tip over into the homeless population”.104
These authors also observe that the contraction of the youth labour market and the increasing dependence of youth on families for financial support has been a significant factor in the emergence of youth homelessness. They note:
It also means that young people who leave home because of family conflict are unlikely to get full-time employment if they drop out of school. In the 1960s, most of them avoided homelessness because they got jobs. Now they cannot.105
The vast majority of homeless people are not in the workforce or are on a very low income. Australia wide, Chamberlain and Mackenzie found that 60% of those aged 16 or older living as marginal residents of caravan parks or in boarding houses were not in the labour force (e.g. on a pension, home duties). A further 25% of marginal residents of caravan parks and 14% of boarding house residents were unemployed (seeking employment). Forty-three per cent of homeless people (aged 16 or older) living with family and friends were also not in the labour market, with a further 16% unemployed.106
In terms of income, Chamberlain and Mackenzie showed that 50% of homeless households living with family and friends in Australia and 74% of households living as marginal residents of caravan parks had a household income of less than $400 per week. More than 70% per cent of those living in boarding houses had a personal income of less than $300 a week.107
The relationship between homelessness and unemployment and low income is also reflected by other data. For example, the three most common primary sources of income recorded by HPIC in 2002–03 were the Newstart Allowance (30% of all calls), the disability support pension (27% of all calls) and the sole parent’s pension (11%).108
Further, administrative data provided by three legal service providers to homeless people in NSW indicated that on average, at least three-quarters of their homeless clients received government benefits, with a significant proportion receiving the disability pension.109 Between 4–11% of the clients of these services had no income. Homeless people without any income include refugees on Temporary Protection Visas, people without visas, recent arrivals from New Zealand, and people who could not comply with Centrelink requirements.110