What is homelessness?
Being homeless is more than sleeping rough: a homeless person does not have secure tenure over permanent housing. Homelessness includes people who are sleeping rough, couch surfing, staying in temporary accommodation, have no fixed address and those housed in long-term hostels and shelters. At the core of homelessness is a disconnection from the society in which we live.
It is extremely rare for a person to end up homeless by choice. Instead, it is usually a result of a complex combination of unplanned and often tragic circumstances.
How big is the problem of homelessness?
At the last census, there were an estimated 9,595 homeless people across our state (ABS 2012). With a rapidly increasing population and tightening economic conditions, this number is increasing daily. Australia-wide, it is estimated that at least 106,000 people are homeless on any one night (Homelessness Australia 2014)
What does health have to do with homelessness?
Many factors, including economic, political and environmental, can lead to homelessness. However, health problems are one of the biggest precipitants in becoming homeless and one of the biggest perpetuating factors for remaining homeless.
Over the last decade, a growing body of evidence has demonstrated that experiencing homelessness not only causes illness, but it can exacerbate pre-existing health issues to critical levels. These health issues are typically only addressed in a partial or fragmented way; especially for those people who experience frequent or lengthy episodes of homelessness.
The health of homeless people is extremely poor; research from Europe and America indicates that homeless people have a life expectancy of between 43 and 48 years, which is almost half of the 80 years an average Australian will live. Homeless people are six times more likely to die from suicide, 2.5 times more likely to die from natural causes, and 15 times more likely to die from intentional harm than the general population.
The most common health problems seen among homeless people are mental disorders, alcohol and drug use, injuries, skin infections and infestations, poor foot and mouth care, poor compliance with medications, and blood-borne viruses (hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV).
For a homeless person, health and housing are intrinsically linked. The best thing for the health of a homeless person is to find them permanent stable housing. Unfortunately, for people who have experienced homelessness, their poor health makes it difficult for them to maintain housing. In our model of care—where we focus on health issues and our partner agencies focus on social issues—it is possible to get the best outcome: a healthy person living in permanent stable housing.