Homelessness is never the safer option

The incidence of homelessness for women in Victoria is increasing as a result of insufficient affordable housing, poverty, family violence and mental illness. Between 2006 and 2011, the rate of homeless in Victoria increased by 20% (ABS, 2011).

Over the past year the City of Melbourne reports that homelessness within the city has increased by 40%.

This trend can be turned around if policies that focus on why homelessness occurs in the first instance are put in place together more strategic funding for services and programs.

The issues facing women who are homeless are different to those facing men. McAuley Community Services for Women is concerned that if we don't get the right help to women at the right time, and coordinate preventative support around women’s housing, mental health, family violence, criminal justice, the risk is that more women will fall through the gap and feel they are failing.

The truth is the policies and programs are failing women who are homeless.

What is homelessness?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ definition states 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.

The ABS definition of homelessness is informed by an understanding of homelessness as 'home'lessness, not 'roof'lessness. It emphasises the core elements of 'home' in Anglo American and European interpretations of the meaning of home as identified in research evidence (Mallett, 2004).

These elements may include: a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety, and the ability to control living space. Homelessness is therefore a lack of one or more of the elements that represent 'home'.

The definition has been constructed from a conceptual framework centred on the following elements:

•Adequacy of the dwelling;

•Security of tenure in the dwelling; and

•Control of, and access to space for social relations.

Homelessness in Victoria at a glance

On Census night in 2011 in Victoria:

  • 22,789 people were counted as homeless
  • Almost half were young people under 25
  • One in six Victorians counted homeless was a child under 12
  • More than 26,000 children accompanied their families to homelessness support services in 2010-11, the highest number ever recorded in Australia.
  • One in two women seeking specialist homeless services do so because of family violence.
  • Women are invisible when homeless because most between family and friends, stay in cars or are in refuges or unsafe rooming houses.