Homelessness is an issue that’s not very commonly looked at in Australia, and a lot of Australians think it’s not a very big issue here but according to Homelessness Australia, on any given night, one in 200 Australians are homeless.
In the UK, they’re finding they have the most used foodbanks in all of Europe, so how do they compare?
“We have a historically significant level of government support, relative to other countries but still well below the level of demand,” said Paul Flatau, Professor at University of Western Australia and Director at the Centre for Social Impact.
“Statistics say whatever the level of support they’re getting, it’s not enough, they don’t have spaces for people, they don’t have the dollars and resources,” he said.
“We are aware that in the UK homelessness is a massive problem, and usually figures you will find online are very misleading. Figures can be dulled down so it looks like there is a smaller crisis than there really is,” explained Ben Ahern from Homeless Aid UK.
“For example, in the small town we operate in (Bolton), figures suggest there are only six or seven homeless, which is far from the case, we have in excess of 18 rough sleepers,” said Mr Ahern.
“We think the UK have the highest number of hidden homeless in Europe. Hidden homeless are those that are not declared homeless, this doesn’t mean they’re out on the street though,” said Mr Ahern.
‘Invisible’ or ‘hidden’ homelessness is an issue on both sides of the world though. Mr Flatau explains the homelessness you see on inner-city streets is a ‘crazy last resort’. The more common kind is the one we don’t see, teenagers couch-surfing and people sleeping in cars.
“Most people don’t see the true level of homelessness that exists, what people do see is what they see when they’re walking down the streets of the inner city and seeing rough sleepers… and that actually represents the smallest portion of the homeless,” said Mr Flatau.
He went on to explain that a lot of the homelessness we’re not seeing is teenagers who’ve run away from the family home, to escape bad relationships or even violence. Adding to this, 80 per cent of homeless people surveyed in Australia confirmed they had been so since before they turned 18.
Some of the UK’s leading factors are relationship breakdowns, relatives passing away and leaving nothing, and ex-prisoners and ex-army persons.
Most of these are relevant in Australia too, but Mr Flatau adds things like, debt and missing an income-support payment.
He was sure to mention though, that it’s impossible to describe one type of homelessness.
So what more should the UK be doing?
“A different approach to society as a whole – investment in education, health, especially mental health, and in creating sustainable communities with more social housing. The welfare benefits system does not work efficiently or effectively,” said Hilary Wellgate, from Lancaster and District Homeless Action Service.
“There are a lot of organisations set up just by normal people who support and help the homeless, however really, this job should be up to the government in the UK,” said Mr Ahern.
There’s currently no indication homelessness in Australia is improving.
“What we can say is homelessness isn’t as big an issue it would be without government support, a lot of the programs we have do have positive impacts and a lot of people are transitioning out of homelessness,” said Mr Flatau.
But the numbers aren’t really changing at all.
“Over the last 5 years or so homelessness [in the UK]has gotten a lot worse. We think homelessness has gone up by around 50 per cent in the last five or six years,” said Mr Ahern.