The causes of homelessness are as complex and varied as the people that it affects and sometimes there are a combination of reasons for what has gone wrong.
Domestic and family violence
Overwhelmingly, and especially for women and children, the leading cause of homelessness is domestic and family violence. Women are usually the ones to leave the family home and often do so with little of their belongings or assets, including money. This leaves them with few options and usually moving away from the area is the safest option. This presents further challenges in that they could be leaving their support networks behind and setting up in an unfamiliar area. Finding appropriate rental properties are hard enough but in these conditions can seem to be impossible.
Household debt keeps rising and more families are living from one pay cheque to the next. Unexpected expenses such as the car breaking down and higher than usual utility bills can stretch the monthly budget beyond breaking point. Illness and injury can also threaten income if it is not covered by Workcover, insurance or if the worker is on casual entitlements. One third of Australian households have less than $1000 in cash savings so any of these things can easily be the difference between having a roof over your head or becoming caught up in rent arrears.
Housing crisis and affordability stress
In Victoria alone, there are close to 35,000 people on the waiting list for public housing, with 10,000 of those applications for early housing. People are waiting anywhere from two to ten years on the general list and up to three years for emergency shelter. Public housing stocks have been dwindling which is putting increasing pressure on the public housing wait list as well. The country wide property sales boom has pushed people who would have been able to afford their own property 10 years ago back into the rental market. This also means that people on lower incomes are having to move further out of the city as rents increase and affordable properties become scarce. However, infrastructure can be slow to catch up so these people are spending increasing time and money to be able to access cheaper food and the jobs market.
Inadequate or inappropriate dwellings
While someone may have a roof over their head, they can still be classed as homeless if it is inadequate or inappropriate. There are a few different scenarios for this including:
- Severe overcrowding where there are too many people living in one household with a lack of privacy and space for social engagement. An example of this would be an extended family of two parents, their six children ranging in ages from new born through to 24 years (who also has a live in partner), a grandparent, and a set of aunts all living in a small three bedroom house with a combined kitchen/living room and one bathroom and toilet area.
- A home that is too large or expensive for the occupant. Take for example a new widow who is unable to keep up with the mortgage payments or rent and doesn’t want to share with anyone in what was the family home.
- Run down housing that is in poor condition is also a risk factor. Imagine a single parent with two young children living in a house where the water flow is intermittent, the heating and cooling only works for 10 minutes at a time, the electricity is faulty, there is a mould growing on the walls and the landlord refuses to fix any of it. The mould and drafts are keeping the children sick which means a constant supply of expensive medications and it’s hard to keep up with cleaning when the water cuts out.
The breakdown of a relationship has implications on housing stability as well as on emotional wellbeing. When one partner leaves, they may take with them the bulk of the household income or assets such as a car or whitegoods. All of this this can affect the ability of the remaining partner to be able to keep up with rent or utility payments, putting them in danger of becoming homeless.
Causes of homelessness:
- Domestic and family violence – 23%
- Financial difficulties – 16%
- Housing crisis – 15%
- Inadequate or inappropriate dwellings – 11%
- Relationship or family breakdown – 6%
- Housing affordability stress – 5%
- Other reasons – 20%
Tenants Union of Victoria: free advice to tenants on all rental issues
The Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV): find out if your agent is a REIV member or look at rental data to compare different suburbs
Victorian Office of Housing: apply for public housing or find out more information
Community Housing Federation of Victoria: find out which type of community housing suits your needs and search for a provider in your area
Aboriginal Housing Victoria: apply for housing or find out more information
Victorian Department of Health & Human Services: information about homelessness and crisis accommodation, children, families and young people, disability, financial support and crisis and emergency
Council to Homeless Persons: practical advice, support, information and referrals to individuals experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of becoming homeless
Victorian Council of Social Service: sector information and advocacy for Victorian agencies
Australian Council of Social Service: sector information and advocacy for Australian agencies
1800 Respect National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service: Australia wide 24 hour a day free counselling for anyone needing help with sexual assault or domestic and family violence issues
Men's Referral Service: anonymous and confidential telephone information and referrals to services in your area
Relationships Australia: service dealing with a multitude of relationship issues
Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre: free Family Violence 24/7 Response telephone line providing support to women and those close to them affected by family and domestic violence
Financial Counselling Australia: find a financial counsellor in your area or call for telephone counselling
WIRE (Women's Information and Referral Exchange): call their Women’s Support Line on 1300 134 130, chat with them online or visit their drop in centre for information, support and referrals about anything
Federal Department of Human Services: up to date and accurate information about services that you use or have applied to use