The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Report on Specialist Homelessness Services 2016-17 found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ‘continue to be over-represented in both the national homeless population and as users of specialist homelessness services’.
The report also found that while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up only 3.3% of the Australian population, they constitute 25% of the clients accessing specialist homelessness services in 2016–17, which is an estimated 64,644 clients.
The key findings of the report were:
Alarmingly, the AIHW also found that the gap between Indigenous and non–Indigenous rates of service use has continued to widen. The report found that in 2016–17 Indigenous people were 9.2 times more likely to use specialist homelessness services than non-Indigenous people, up from 8.2 times in 2012–13.
The use of homelessness service use by Indigenous clients living in remote or very remote areas has increased by the greatest margin over time; from 499 Indigenous clients per 10,000 population in 2012–13 to 721 in 2016–17. This is in contrast to non-Indigenous clients in the same areas where the rate decreased from 53 clients per 10,000 to 41 clients over the same time period.
The Turnbull government has yet to release its Discussion Paper on the ‘refresh’ of the Close the Gap targets. The AIHW Report on Homelessness Services makes it clear that the current Close the Gap targets are doing little to address the unmet need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are dealing with homelessness or the threat of homelessness on a daily basis.
‘To be homeless in your own country is a tragedy for First Nations Peoples, and the failure lies at the door of the Turnbull Government. Unless the problem of homelessness and housing is addressed, the many other social predicaments affecting Indigenous people will also not be addressed,’ Senator Dodson said.
It is now time for the Turnbull government to show some respect and get serious about addressing homelessness in Australia, and especially in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.