Census figures a wake-up call for action on affordable housing crisis leading to homelessness

The Australian Council of Social Service has expressed alarm at new Census data released today showing an increase in the level of homelessness in Australia and called for a concerted national effort to address the worsening problem.

According to estimates of the prevalence of homelessness released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) the rate of homelessness in Australia was 49 persons for every 10,000 persons enumerated in the 2011 Census, up 8% from 45 persons in 2006.

“Clearly we are not doing enough to deal with homelessness. The latest figures are a wake-up call that one of the principal ways to deal with homelessness is to take measures to tackle the nations’ affordable housing crisis, which is causing so much strain and forcing people into poverty,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“It’s also a sign of the extent of strain being experienced by community support services, especially those supporting women escaping violence; young people, including those leaving care; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. About three quarters of the increase in the overall homelessness estimate to 2011 was accounted for by people who were born overseas.

“These problems were all borne out in our own research only a few months ago, which revealed the enormous pressures housing and homelessness services are under, 81% of whom reported being simply unable to meet demand.

“The reduction in the number of rough sleepers is welcome, however most of the increase in homelessness between 2006 and 2011 resulted from the rise in the number of people living in severely crowded dwellings. This is a clear sign of the extent of the affordable housing crisis.

“We’ve seen evidence that investment in areas such as the social housing initiative made a positive impact on homelessness services, but there are still far too many people being turned away – a total of 20,496 over the year or 56 people each day (Australian Community Sector Survey).

“We must continue our efforts to expand the supply of affordable housing, and to ensure homelessness services are adequately funded. There is so much more to be done if we are to alleviate the poverty and homelessness associated with the high cost of housing, especially in our capital cities which have seen house prices rise nearly 150% over the past decade and rents rise by 49% in the last five years.

“Our survey showed this to be the single most important issue for policy makers to prioritise for people experiencing poverty and disadvantage. ACOSS has called for the establish of an Affordable Housing Growth Fund in order to expand the stock of affordable housing, with a long term funding strategy attached to it. The National Rental Affordability Scheme, that directly encourages investment in new affordable flats and houses, should also be expanded.

“We need a sustained effort to improve the housing affordability crisis that’s leading to worsening poverty in our country and placing great strain on community services. To that end we urgently need agreement between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments on the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness to ensure funding certainty for chronically under-funded homelessness services in Australia.

“As a wealthy nation, Australia has a responsibility to ensure all its citizens have the opportunity to fulfil the basic need of having a roof over their heads that’s affordable and liveable. Let’s use this most up to date information to guide us into action instead of allowing the status quo which is forcing more people into poverty and homelessness,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

Nation’s legal services reaching homeless service crisis levels: ACOSS Report (August 2012)