Homeless People in Australia
People experiencing homelessness and the risks of homelessness are those that are socially and economically disadvantaged. Homelessness results from many economic, health, and social factors, such as low levels of education, domestic violence, ill health, substance misuse, disability, or trauma. In Australia, homeless people are among the marginalized groups in the community. According to the 2016 population census, more than 11600 0 individuals, or 50 persons per 10000, were said to be homeless (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022). This was a 10% increase from 45 persons per 10000 population in 2006.
Additionally, 43% of low-income households also indicate rental stress spending more than thirty percent of the gross income on costs (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022). Homelessness is a critical issue; the government and the community are concerned about these highly vulnerable populations. The Australian Departments of Communities established the Office of Homelessness in 2022, focusing on the coordination, strategic planning, and stewardship of homeless people. The state government is focusing on reducing the number of individuals who are homeless or at risk of being lost through their ten years strategic plan for homelessness 2020-2030. Homeless people are marginalized as these individuals are exposed to significant health problems, risk being exploited, getting hurt, and do not have access to basic wants (Mahlangu & Kgadima, 2021). These contexts present historical, cultural, and structural factors contributing to the marginalization of the homeless population and propose a process for ameliorating the effects of marginalization on health and wellbeing.
Historical, Cultural, and Structural Factors
One of the historical causes of increasing homelessness in Australia is underinvestment in mental health services and affordable housing. This underinvestment is critical in remote areas of the Northern Territories where they are currently limited or no supported accommodation or housing support for individuals with mental illnesses. For instance, patients seeking medical care from Katherine Hospital on weekends or out of hours would be sent to Darwin, approximately 300 km away, because there are no local facilities in the area (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (b), 2022). Due to these challenges, their recovery is limited, especially when they are away from their families and country. Another historical factor contributing to homelessness is the increasing house pressure. Over the last three decades, the percentage of Australians owning their own houses has decreased. Housing costs have increased while wages have remained stagnant since 1991; the median house price has increased from 4 to 2015, and the total social housing has declined by 4% from 1996-2016 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (b), 2022). Lastly, the inability to climb out of poverty contributes to homelessness in Australia. Poverty has been rampant in the country due to a punishing level of income that is unable to sustain basing living standards. The trauma and stigmatization associated with homelessness also make it hard for these individuals to secure jobs and climb up from poverty.
Cultural factors include contemporary discrimination and exclusion and system inequalities that have resulted in high poverty levels, lack of social support, and limited access to affordable housing. Indigenous Australians are disproportionately affected by homelessness. For instance, the number of homeless Aboriginals is ten times higher than those not (Vallesi et al., 2020). More than 55.6% of people in Western Australia are either stolen generations or their descendants (Silbert, 2022). Indigenous properties and land were stolen during the colonial period. Ever since these periods, the Aboriginals have faced much discrimination. They currently face limited access to health care, education, and employment opportunities, making breaking the cycle of homelessness and poverty difficult. Immigrants also face significant challenges, such as cultural differences and language barriers, which make it quite challenging to access social and economic resources (Tazreiter, 2019). These challenges make it difficult to access affordable and stale housing leading to an increased risk of homelessness. Dispossession of land among other resources among indigenous people and provision of culturally inappropriate accommodation to immigrants and refugees are some of the critical cultural factors that cause homelessness in Australia (Puszka, 2022)
Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) listed housing markets, weak labor markets, and unequal poverty distribution of homelessness services as the fundamental structural and social factors contributing to this concern (Parliament of Australia, n.d.). In Australia, the housing market is characterized by a rising rate of homelessness due to a shortage of affordable private rental housing availability. The housing market varies and interacts with individual behaviors and factors such as alcohol and drug abuse. Although the governments have implemented various initiative services for homeless people, the unavailability and inaccessibility of these homeless services also contribute to homelessness. The institution also noted that New South Wales, Queensland, and Northern Territory lack access to homeless services (Parliament of Australia, n.d.). As a result of the inaccessibility and unavailability of these homelessness services, their regions record a high rate of homelessness. For example, the northern territory homelessness rate is 115.9 per 10000 people, which is more than double the country’s average homelessness rate (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (b), 2022). Another structural factor is the weak labor market. Most people experiencing homelessness are located in regions with a weaker labor market. Indigenous Australia is greatly affected by the weak labor market as they have a low level of education and low skill to secure high-paying jobs (Johnson e al., 2019). As a result, they spend most f their gross income on a household, and most are exposed to the risk of becoming homeless. Lastly, poverty is another factor that is significantly facilitating this concern. Poverty is not only the pathway to homelessness among adults, but poverty undermines individuals’ capacity to re-enter and sustain housing after being homeless.
The governments have adopted various structural changes to solve the issue of homelessness in the country. The governments have started outreach programs that offer support and assistance to homeless individuals and those at a greater risk of becoming holes to address homelessness and improve their wellbeing effectively. These programs provide access to food and healthcare, among other basic amenities such as counseling. Homeless people are at a greater risk of getting ill or hurt. Therefore, the government has invested in improving healthcare access for homeless persons by creating programs such as Homeless Person Program, which offer health care service to people experiencing homelessness. People suffering from mental health are significantly at risk of being homeless. The majority of homeless individuals have mental illness and addiction. The Australian government has established several mental health and addiction such as Drug and Alcohol Service South Australia, which offers additional treatment support, and Headspace Program to offer mental support to young people. Additionally, the government has started homeless service and support programs such as National Partnership Agreements on Homelessness (NAHA) to offer financial support to homelessness across the country (Productivity Commission, 2021). The organization offers necessities such as food and accommodation, counseling, and other forms of support. NAHA is also working toward increasing the supply of affordable housing.
Discussion and Analysis
Most social determinants of health start with adverse early life trauma and experiences followed by a low level of education, disengagements, drug abuse, and often imprisonment. Therefore, a focus on social determinants of health is significant because factors such as employment, education achievement, access to social support, and the health care system significantly impact health outcomes. Marginalized populations, such as people experiencing homelessness, are most likely to experience adverse health outcomes due to a lack of resources and services to promote their health and wellbeing.
A human rights approach is crucial in solving stigma, marginalization, and discrimination affecting marginalized communities. Human rights apply to all persons regardless of race, gender, social status, and other characteristics. A human rights approach, in this case, can include addressing the root cause of inequalities and discrimination by promoting access to fundamental human rights such as housing, education, healthcare, and job opportunities (Patel, 2019).
To solve stigma, marginalization, and discrimination of marginalized communities, implementing community-based educational and awareness programs is significant. Through awareness, it will be possible to reduce stigma and discrimination by promoting and providing information about marginalized populations, cultures, and experiences. Addressing structural barriers through policies that promote equal access will help improve access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities for all, including marginalized populations. Offering psychological support such as mental health services and counseling will help individuals cope with the effect of stigma and discrimination and also help them improve their mental health outcomes. Finally, promoting cultural competence in healthcare sectors by understanding marginalized communities’ popular cultures and experiences to narrow down the healthcare services to meet their unique needs.
Homelessness is a critical issue in Australia that affects economically and socially disadvantaged people. Homelessness results from various factors such as low levels of education, alcohol and substance use, ill health, trauma, and disability. In 2016, more than 11600 people were homeless, a 10% increase from 2006. Some historical, cultural, and structural factors significantly contribute to homelessness. The noted historical factors include the inability to climb out of poverty, underinvestment in mental health, and affordable housing in rural areas. Cultural factors include system inequalities, discrimination, and exclusions, which have resulted in limited access to affordable housing and social services. Structural factors include unequal distribution of homeless services, weak labor market, and poverty. The Australian government has adopted various programs and initiatives to solve the issue of homelessness. Some of these programs include Homeless Person Program, which offers healthcare services to homeless individuals, and NAHA, which offers financial support to homeless persons. To address the issues of homelessness, it is essential to focus on addressing social determinants of health, such as the level of employment, education, social support, and the health care system, which significantly affect health outcomes.
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