Homelessness is increasing in Australia as housing costs rise

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images The former tent city in Sydney’s tent in Martin Place.

Numbers from the 2016 census released today show homelessness increasing in Australia despite strong economic growth, with young people, migrants and the elderly most vulnerable.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says the total number of homeless Australians increased by 14% to 116,427 between the last census in 2011 and the latest in 2016.

Being homeless does not necessarily mean you’re sleeping on the street. Overcrowded housing also falls under the definition.

Nearly half (44%) were in severely crowded dwellings, with about 1 in 5 in supported accommodation, 15% staying in boarding houses, 15% staying with other households and about 7% in improvised dwellings or sleeping rough.

“In a country as prosperous as Australia, this is a disturbing and worrying trend,” says RMIT University’s Guy Johnson, Australia’s first Professor of Urban Housing and Homelessness. He is also a member of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ homelessness reference group.

“Rising housing costs are leaving a growing number of Australians on the edges of home ownership and at risk of becoming life-long renters.

“This places a large portion of the population in unstable housing, leaving them vulnerable to health and financial shocks.”

Professor Johnson’s analysis of the census numbers:

The chances of becoming homeless are higher
The increase in the size of the homeless population is not just because of population growth. The rate of homelessness has increased to 49.8 people per 10,000, up from 47.6 in 2011.

Homelessness in Australia is most common among younger people. Overall, 46% of Australians are aged 34 or younger, whereas 59% of the homeless are under 35.

The good news
The number of homeless children aged under 12 fell by 11% from 2011. The number of homeless youth, or those aged between 12 and 18, dropped 7%.

The bad
The number of homeless aged between 65 to 74 increased by 38% to 5651 from 4097. Of those over 65, one third are women, the same proportion reported in the 2011 and 2006 census.

The states
In NSW there was a 37% increase in the number of homeless. Victoria, Queensland and Tasmanis all reported modest increases in the number of homeless and also the rate per 10,000. NT, WA and ACT all had reductions in the number of homeless.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
They are massively over-represented among the homeless — 2.8% of Australians are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander but they make up 20% of the homeless.

However, the number and proportion of homeless Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander continues to decline. In 2016, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders accounted 20% of the homeless, down from 29% in 2006 and 26% in 2011.

Rough sleepers
Rough sleeping is on the rise again. The number had been declining in every census since 2001 but in the 2016 census rough sleepers increased by 20%. Two thirds are men and one quarter are indigenous.


Migrants are faring badly. 28.2% of Australians were born overseas, but they make up 46% of the homeless. The number of homeless Australians born overseas has jumped by 40% since the last census

In response to today’s ABS figures, NSW minister for social housing Pru Goward said overcrowding was the main contributor to the homelessness figures and the government will investigate to see how it can be addressed.

“More than half of the people in NSW living in severely overcrowded dwellings in 2016 were born in Asia, and one in five people in severely overcrowded dwellings in NSW was a tertiary student,” she said.

Goward noted that a recent summer street count identified 329 people sleeping rough in the inner city – 104 less than 12 months earlier.

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