What is homelessness?

In basic terms, homelessness means having nowhere safe, secure, and sustainable to live. The Homelessness Australia website identifies three different kinds of homelessness and  these definitions are widely used within the sector.

Primary homelessness defines being without any conventional accommodation, such as sleeping rough or in an improvised dwelling. Secondary homelessness defines frequently moving between temporary forms of shelter, such as emergency accommodation, youth refuges, or couch surfing. Tertiary homelessness defines staying in accommodation that falls below minimum community standards, such as boarding houses or caravan parks.

In 2016, The Australian Bureau of Statistics Census of Housing and Population revealed that half a percent of Australians are currently experiencing some form of homelessness. Homelessness can affect any age demographic, from under-12’s to 75 and over. Homelessness can occur as a result of any number of causes, such as a lack of income or affordable housing, fleeing domestic violence, addictive behaviours, traumatic experiences, bereavement, mental health issues, physical disability, or discharge from prison, hospital, or rehabilitation programs. Due to the complexity of homelessness, a wide variety of services are offered across all Australian States and Territories. Many of these services are provided by not-for-profit organisations, including Flourish Australia.

There are a number of ways we can support those who are homeless. Even small actions can go a long way. For starters, education can contribute to dispelling stereotypes. Learning about the root causes of homelessness can be a first step to overcoming stigma. Showing respect is just as essential. People experiencing homelessness are equally deserving of the respect we show our family and friends. Thirdly, we can offer donations such as money, toys, clothing or food to charity organisations or volunteer our time, skills and expertise.

If you or someone you know with a mental health issue is at risk of experiencing homelessness, Flourish Australia can help. Over the last 12 months our NERSHH housing program has supported 276 people in gaining sustainable accommodation, and our Women and Children’s program has been providing accommodation for at-risk women and their children for over a decade. There is a great need for these kinds of services, and this need isn’t shrinking with time. For more information about any Flourish Australia services, call us on 1300 779 270.

by Grant J Everett, Panorama magazine