In the Read

House and home – a shrinking reality for many Australians

Housing is a human right, yet recent research shows that more Australians than ever are homeless or experiencing housing instability.

The Housing in Queensland: Affordability and Preferences report from the Queensland Productivity Commission shows that Brisbane house prices have increased worryingly out of step with both the average wage rise and the average Australian capital city house price rise, primarily driven by the cost of land rather than the quality of housing. The result is that housing affordability in Brisbane is low, with young people and low income earners experiencing the most stress, and the proportion of homeowners declining. Though anyone can become homeless, some groups are more vulnerable.

A recent research report from the Centre for Social Impact at The University of Western Australia interviewed homeless Australians, including young people under 25, in capital cities and regional centres where housing support services operate. The study identified veterans and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult men as significantly more at risk of being homeless in these locations. Twenty per cent of those interviewed were Indigenous, despite Indigenous people making up only 2.8 per cent of the Australian population, and a much larger proportion of homeless veterans identified as Indigenous (16 per cent) relative to the proportion of Indigenous Australians in the Australian Defence Force (1.6 per cent). While males represented a higher proportion of the homeless population in each age bracket, the distribution of homeless females was skewed towards the younger age brackets; over half of female respondents were aged 34 years or under.

Especially among young Australians, couchsurfing represents an often hidden but prevalent form of homelessness, at rates that have risen dramatically in recent years. Preliminary results from a research project by Brisbane Youth Service and Griffith Criminology Institute involving young couchsurfers aged 12-25 in Brisbane found they are twice as likely to describe their mental health as ‘poor’ compared with young people sleeping rough. They also reported higher rates of suicidal ideation and self-harming behaviour. The vast majority of couchsurfers in the study were young women, with many identifying as LGBTIQ. Their experiences echo international research that suggests a strong link between housing insecurity and ‘sexual exchange’. The preliminary findings will be published in Parity magazine.

CREATE’s 2016 evaluation of the Go Your Own Way (GYOW) resource for young people transitioning from care shows one way in which some of the challenges facing vulnerable groups can be anticipated and how outcomes can be improved by providing adequate support ahead of time. Young people transitioning to independence are more vulnerable across all domains, including becoming homeless, but research has shown that support through transition and connections between domains can ameliorate this and other adverse outcomes. CREATE’s evaluation found that young people with a GYOW Kit were better prepared for leaving care, and that the number of young people who reported being homeless post-care (2.8 per cent), though higher than the number homeless in care (1.2 per cent), was lower than in other research.

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