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During Homelessness Persons’ Week (4-10 August), the sector is emphasising that homelessness causes devastating personal harm to individuals, significantly impacts on society more generally and costs governments by generating high use of public services, such as health care and the justice system.

NSW had 28,190 homeless people at the time of the 2011 Census, a 27% increase on the 2006 figure. The largest numbers were staying in severely crowded dwellings, boarding houses, supported accommodation or were ‘couch surfing’. A further 26,927 people were in what the ABS describes as other marginal housing, such as other crowded dwellings or were marginally housed in caravan parks.

Between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, the number of people living in severely crowded dwellings increased by 64% while those in other crowded dwellings increased by 50%. This reflects the massive shortage of affordable housing and the low level of income support payments, such as the Newstart Allowance.

While NSW had the second lowest rate of indigenous homelessness of all the states and territories, the homelessness rate amongst our indigenous population is almost three and a half times that of the non-indigenous population – 127.6 per 10,000 people, compared to 36.7 per 10,000. This is a shameful disparity.

Other recent reports from the AIHW, paint a disturbing contrast between the housing circumstances of Aboriginal households and those of the wider community. Key findings for NSW were as follows:

  • The majority of indigenous households are either private rental (30.3%) or social housing (23.0%) tenants, with just 39.3% buying or owning their own home;
  • Indigenous households living in social housing, were spread across public housing, indigenous community housing, state owned and managed indigenous housing and mainstream community housing, with almost half (48.0%) living in mainstream public housing;
  • Overcrowding affects 9.9% of indigenous households, and 16.1% of people, compared to the Canadian National Occupancy Standard; and
  • Between 2009 and 2013 there was a 54% increase in the number of Aboriginal people receiving Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA), from 14,710 to 22,714 people, with indigenous CRA recipients generally living outside Sydney.

Data such as this highlights the need for the Federal Government to maintain an active role in planning and funding housing and homelessness programs. The level of unmet need cannot possibly be met by the states and territories acting alone. The terms of reference of the forthcoming White Paper on the Reform of the Federation strongly suggest that the Federal Government wants to significantly reduce its involvement in issues to do with housing and homelessness. That’s not something we can afford to let happen.

Full AIHW publications: