Perceptions we’ve all had about homelessness
What comes to mind when you think of someone who is experiencing homelessness?
For many people it’s an older man, who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol, and is sleeping on a street corner. If only homelessness was that simple.
The realities of homelessness are quite different to what you might expect. Homelessness in Australia has increased, and in order to tackle the issue, we must first understand it.
Here are five perceptions we’ve all had about homelessness and the unexpected realities behind them.
1. “I don’t see that many homeless people on the street, so it mustn’t be a big issue.”
If you believe Australia’s homeless are out in the open, then think again. A common perception is that it’s only those who are ‘sleeping rough’ who are experiencing homelessness. In reality, the people that you may see on the streets make up a small proportion of the picture—only seven per cent of the 116,427 Australians who are homeless are sleeping rough*. Most of the people who don’t have a place to call home will not be visible. In fact, the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness has been driven largely by the 51,088* who are living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings.
2. “Why don’t homeless people just apply for public housing?”
In Australia, there is a shortage of social, public and affordable housing which is safe and suitably located, and that meets the needs of all families and individuals including those with pets.
For some people, having a safe, secure and affordable home could be the start towards helping them leave homelessness. But in our experience, for every year someone is on the street, it takes a year of intensive support to help them to undo the effect of homelessness.
3. “If you make healthy life choices, you won’t be homeless.”
A lack of empathy towards people who are experiencing homelessness can stem from stereotypes of the ‘addict’ or person living off welfare—that their perceived poor choices or way of living have rendered them homeless.
These misconceptions simplify a hugely complex issue. The reality is that homelessness can be the result of a combination of social, economic and personal factors, which can’t be summed up as ‘choices’. These factors can include domestic violence and family breakdown, unemployment, mental health issues, drug or alcohol addiction and financial stress, with a shortage of affordable housing being one of the key drivers.
4. “Most homeless people are middle-aged men.”
The homeless demographic is diverse, it can happen to anyone regardless of gender, age or ethnicity; to individuals and families.
While men aged 45 to 64 represent 13 per cent of the total number of Australians experiencing homelessness*, homelessness is most common among younger Australians. Of the total number of Australians who are homeless, 58 per cent are under 35*.
5. “Why don’t homeless people just get a job?”
Contrary to popular belief, many people who are experiencing homelessness have jobs (almost one quarter of the number of Australians who are homeless are employed) or have been recently employed. Due to the rising costs of housing and living expenses, it’s becoming more common that low-income households simply cannot afford their accommodation. In 2016/17, Wesley Mission supported 3,748 people experiencing homelessness and provided the equivalent of 105,252 nights of accommodation. For almost 30 per cent*, the main reason was because they were experiencing financial difficulties and housing affordability stress.
Many of us are just steps away from homelessness. Sudden unemployment or illness that puts you out of work can have a domino effect, and once you’re in the ‘no job—no home’ cycle, it’s difficult to get back on your feet again.
Homelessness is a complex social issue that affects everyone in differently. Despite the differences in the circumstances, Wesley Mission believes that everyone experiencing homelessness deserves our help.