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According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a person is 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.

According to the 2011 Census, most commonly homeless people live in severely overcrowded houses or access supported accommodation.  They may also stay in improvised dwellings, tents or ‘sleep rough’.

A number of national studies inform our view of the causes of homelessness.  Specialist homelessness services report, for example, the main reasons people give for accessing services as: family violence (25%), financial difficulties (15%), housing crisis/affordability (18%), inadequate or inappropriate dwellings (10%) and relationship or family breakdown (6%).  However, a person’s experience of homelessness is often the result of a complex interaction between a number of social, economic and demographic factors.

Homelessness research consistently shows biased and inaccurate perceptions and attitudes towards homelessness.   Studies often identify an incorrect view held by many Australians that the main drivers of homelessness are personal, such as drug and alcohol problems, and the most common demographic group experiencing homelessness is young males.  In a recent survey conducted by Homelessness Australia, 64 per cent of respondents thought the main way a person could ‘get out of homelessness’ was to ‘get a job’.  This response fails to recognise the  multiple barriers (health and mental health issues, experience of family violence, lack of education, poverty, intergenerational disadvantage or substance abuse) many people face in exiting homelessness.

Relationships Australia’s July online survey tested our website visitors’ perceptions of homelessness.