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Research Report: No home, no justice?  The legal needs of homeless people
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No home, no justice? The legal needs of homeless people  ( 2005 )  Cite this report



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Chapter 4. Legal issues facing homeless people in NSW


Legal problems are among the many complex issues facing people who are homeless. The purpose of this chapter is to identify the different types of legal issues facing homeless people in NSW.

People tend to face different legal issues as they move through a ‘homeless career’.1 For example, people becoming homeless as a result of family breakdown usually face family law and domestic violence-related issues. On the other hand, people becoming homeless as a result of financial crisis tend to face debt- and housing-related legal issues. Different again, when people have become entrenched in homelessness they tend to face legal issues related to fines and other criminal activities. This chapter will discuss the legal issues commonly encountered by the homeless, which are as follows:

  • family law
  • care and protection
  • domestic violence
  • victim of crime
  • housing (including SAAP Services, boarding houses, caravan parks and villages)
  • discrimination
  • debt
  • social security
  • crime (including fines).

When describing the legal issues associated with people who are homeless, there are two important qualifications that should be kept in mind. First, identifying the legal issues facing people as they become homeless and once they have become homeless is useful for determining appropriate sites of intervention to address their issues. However, distinguishing between legal issues that lead into homelessness and the legal issues that maintain homelessness is more problematic. For example, a family that becomes homeless as a result of family breakdown and domestic violence may also have a housing-related legal issue.

Secondly, many homeless people have more than one legal issue affecting them at any one time. For instance, more than three-quarters of the homeless participants interviewed for the current study had experienced three or more legal issues. To illustrate further, in 2003 the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW conducted a telephone survey of legal need among more than 2400 people living in ‘disadvantaged’ areas of NSW (South Sydney, Fairfield, Campbelltown, Newcastle, Nambucca and Walgett).2 One hundred and twenty respondents indicated that they were or had been homeless during the last 12 months.3 Preliminary analysis of the survey data suggest that homeless respondents faced more legal events than respondents who were not homeless.4 Thus, at any one time a homeless person may have several legal issues and/ or their homelessness may place them at further risk of legal problems.



See MacKenzie & Chamberlain, Homeless Careers, p 1 for a description of homeless careers.
Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Legal Needs Survey 2003, unpublished data.
Homeless respondents were those who reported living in a tent or other improvised accommodation, a boarding house or hostel, or had no fixed address, or no place to live in the 12 months prior to the survey. Respondents who were not identified as homeless are described as housed respondents.
For a discussion of the definition of legal event see the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Access to Justice and Legal Needs: A Project to Identify Legal Needs and Barriers for Disadvantaged People in NSW. Stage 2: Quantitative Legal Needs Survey, Bega Valley (Pilot), Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2003, pp. 67.

 See MacKenzie & Chamberlain, Homeless Careers, p 1 for a description of homeless careers.
 Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Legal Needs Survey 2003, unpublished data.
 Homeless respondents were those who reported living in a tent or other improvised accommodation, a boarding house or hostel, or had no fixed address, or no place to live in the 12 months prior to the survey. Respondents who were not identified as homeless are described as housed respondents.
 For a discussion of the definition of legal event see the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Access to Justice and Legal Needs: A Project to Identify Legal Needs and Barriers for Disadvantaged People in NSW. Stage 2: Quantitative Legal Needs Survey, Bega Valley (Pilot), Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2003, pp. 67.


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Forell, S, McCarron, E & Schetzer, L 2005, No home, no justice? The legal needs of homeless people in NSW, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney