Indigenous Homelessness Figures Shame the Nation

Indigenous Homelessness Figures Shame the Nation

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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:

  • Indigenous client numbers increased by 5% since 2015–16 to around 64,600 in 2016–17, and grew at a faster rate than the general SHS population (3% increase).
  • There were more returning Indigenous clients (58%) than new Indigenous clients in 2016–17, meaning over half the Indigenous clients in 2016–17 had received assistance at some time in the previous 5 years.
  • The length of Indigenous client support continues to increase, up from 44 to 46 days in 2016–17, and remains notably longer than that of non-¬Indigenous clients (39 days in 2016–17).
  • The proportion of Indigenous clients receiving accommodation services decreased to 42%, down from 44% in 2015–16; however, the median length of accommodation increased slightly (20 nights, up from 19 nights) but remains significantly shorter than non–Indigenous clients (41 nights).
  • An estimated 3,000 (or 6%) more Indigenous clients ended support in public or community housing and fewer Indigenous clients were in short-term or emergency accommodation following assistance from SHS agencies in 2016–17.

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.

Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall
Lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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