6. Homelessness

6. Homelessness

Homelessness Australia

“There is growing recognition that there is a housing crisis in NSW and its implication for those experiencing homelessness.

According to the NSW Audit Office in 2015 there were over 55,000 applications for housing, representing 120,000 people on the wait list. In New South Wales, there are 247 areas and towns where social housing is available. In over 20 per cent of these areas, applicants can expect to wait more than ten years for social housing.


The current housing crisis has led to a situation where the only option for many people is crisis accommodation. Data recently released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has confirmed this, with services across Australia seeing 279,000 clients in 2015–16 (up from nearly 256,000 in 2014–15). There are simply not enough crisis accommodation spaces to meet the current demand for services.

Homelessness NSW is currently conducting a number of projects in response to the current housing and homelessness crisis in New South Wales. These include:

  • Social Housing and Debt Project


  • Future Directions
  • Submissions to government inquiries
  • HomeGround
  • Temporary Accommodation”


Homelessness NSW Inc. further defines homelessness as follows;

“Over the past 20 years, various definitions of homelessness have been developed and used in Australia and other OECD nations. In 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released its definition of homelessness, after some years of discussion and debate. The ABS statistical definition is that: When a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives they are considered homeless if their current living arrangement:

  • is in a dwelling that is inadequate; or
  • has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable; or
  • does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations.

Another commonly accepted definition of homelessness is Chamberlain and Mackenzie’s definition, which was adopted by the Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Homelessness in 2001. It includes three categories in recognition of the diversity of homelessness.

Primary homelessness is experienced by people without conventional accommodation (e.g. sleeping rough or in an improvised dwelling).

Secondary homelessness is experienced by people who frequently move from one temporary shelter to another (e.g. emergency accommodation, youth refuges, "couch surfing").

Tertiary homelessness is experienced by people staying in accommodation that falls below minimum community standards (e.g. boarding houses and caravan parks).

The definition is based on the premise that concepts of homelessness and housing are culturally bound, and that in order to define homelessness it is necessary to identify shared community standards about minimum housing.

Homelessness can be caused by poverty, unemployment and by a critical shortage of affordable housing. Homelessness can be triggered by domestic and family violence, family breakdown, mental illness, sexual assault, addiction, financial difficulty, gambling and social isolation.

How many people are homeless?

At the last count 105,237 people were homeless in Australia on census night in 2011. The 2011 Census tells us where homeless Australians are staying.


  • 39% are living in severely overcrowded dwellings,
  • 20 % are living in supported accommodation for the homeless;
  • 17 % are staying temporarily with other households;
  • 17% are staying in boarding houses;
  • 6% are sleeping rough on the streets of our cities and towns,
  • 1 % are in other temporary lodging

Other key national results from the 2011 Census are:

  • Most of the increase in homelessness between 2006 and 2011 was reflected in people living in severely overcrowded dwellings;
  • About 75% of the increase in the numbers of homeless people was accounted for by people who were born overseas;
  • 60% of homeless people were aged under 35 years, and 22% of the increase in homelessness was in the 25 to 34 years age group;

In NSW, that number is 28,190 people (an increase of 5,971 or 27% on the revised 2006 Census figure). The 2011 Census also indicates:

  • 34% of all homeless people live in severely overcrowded housing;
  • The number of people who are rough sleepers remained stable at 7% of the total homeless population;
  • The number of boarding houses residents increased by 9.5% over the 2006-11 period;
  • There was a 27% increase in the number of people in supported accommodation services on the nights of the 2006 and 2011 Census

Who makes up the homeless population?

The national Census 2011 homeless person’s figures indicate that:

  • 17% are aged under 12;
  • 10% are aged between 12 and 18;
  • 15% are aged between 19 and 24;
  • 18 are aged between 25 and 34;
  • 14% are aged between 35 and 44;
  • 12% are aged between 45 and 54;
  • 8% are aged between 55 and 64;
  • 4% are aged between 65 and 74; and
  • 2% are aged 75 and over

The data also suggests nationally that:

  • 56% are men and 44 % are women
  • 67% are non-indigenous, 25% are indigenous, with 8% not stated; and
  • The homelessness rate is 48.9% per 10,000 population (which is an increase of 3.7% since 2006).”
Reasons for Homelessness


The recent homeless camp in Martin Place, Sydney, has been described as

‘an uncomfortable reminder of a deeper systematic crisis’.

The NSW government response was to pass legislation empowering police to dismantle the Martin Place homeless camp. This follows similar actions in Victoria where police cleared a homeless camp outside Flinders Street Station and the Melbourne Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle, proposed a bylaw to ban rough sleeping in the city.

In March the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, censured the City of Melbourne’s actions stating that:

“…the criminalisation of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law.”

As the special rapporteur highlighted, homelessness is already ‘a gross violation of the right to adequate housing.’ To further discriminate against people rendered homeless by systematic injustice is prohibited under international human rights law.

In commenting on the Martin Place camp, a recent news report said ‘it is not surprising that right-wing pundits have described these camps as ‘eyesores’ or that they make NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, ‘completely uncomfortable’. The breach of human rights these camps represent and the challenge they pose to the current system, should make people uncomfortable.’

The news further reported;

“Unlike most comparable nations, Australia has very limited legal protections for human rights. In this context, actions like the Martin Place and Flinders Street camps are one of the few options available to victims of systemic injustice to exercise their democratic right to hold government to account.

In seeking to sweep this issue under the carpet, both the City of Melbourne and the NSW government are not only further breaching the right to adequate housing, they are also trying to silence political protest…Homelessness is a deeply dehumanising force that strips people of access to fundamental rights. The policies that are creating this crisis must be seen as unacceptable breaches of human rights. We need to start asking whether our current economic system is compatible with a truly democratic society.”

Speaking in parliament on the Martin Place camp, Tamara Smith, Member for Ballina noted:

“It was National Homelessness Week this week – instead of making a genuine cross-party effort to take the complex social issues behind homelessness, the NSW coalition government chose to change the law to increase police powers to move on homeless people in Martin Place, in central Sydney, by introducing the Sydney Public Reserves (Public Safety) Bill 2017”.


Scroll to Top