What is homelessness?

Definitions of homelessness are difficult to narrow down, as the experiences of the people who are affected by this problem are many and varied.  Homelessness is a broad term which encompasses a diverse range of people and experiences.
While everyone has a different experience of homelessness, at its very core, a clear definition of homelessness is about absence: an absence of a home, a safe place to live, security, choices and control over one’s life. It is also often an absence of family and friends.
“When I was sleeping in the car… I would just drive around… try and drink the day away really just get rid of it… till the next day which would become a perpetual sadness.”(Maureen, aged 43)
“People look at you different… You just want to hide all the time you don’t want to go near people, you don’t want to walk up any main street, you stick to all the back streets…”
“Homelessness separates you from society because, or you feel, yeah, really you do become separated from society cause you don’t live the same as other people. You don’t have a home to go to. You don’t have something to do with yourself like a job… your hygiene becomes poor because you don’t have access to washing facilities. Your diet, your eating, becomes affected because you don’t have access to food the same as you would if you have your own home.” (Malcolm, 42)

Facts about homelessness

The 2011 ABS census statistics showed more than 105,000 people experiencing homelessness in Australia on Census night. It's been estimated that 21,000 of these people are long-term homeless. There are slightly more males than females, around a quarter are from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and 30 per cent were born overseas. Almost half are aged between 19-44 years old.
These statistics don’t capture the even greater number of people who are at risk of homelessness in Australia through economic and social disadvantage. People experiencing homelessness may be sleeping rough, live in improvised dwellings, tents, cars, temporary or crisis accommodation, boarding houses, severely overcrowded dwellings, or be couch surfing (those temporarily staying with other households).
Many people ask, what causes homelessness?  This is a significant question that touches upon many issues, as people experiencing homelessness face a range of challenges, among them :
  • mental illness,
  • lack of family support and few friends,
  • many have experienced a disproportionate number of traumatic incidents compared with the average Australian
  • sexual abuse in childhood and being a victim of an assault while sleeping rough,
  • neglect or family violence,
  • disability,
  • thoughts of suicide or self-harm,
  • substance abuse issues (drugs and alcohol are often used as coping mechanisms)
  • interpersonal problems,
  • social isolation and marginalisation.  
Trauma exposure in childhood, and in later years can impact a person's social and emotional development. 
For more information about homelessness including definitions, statistics, facts & figures, visit these websites: