Rough Sleepers Just The Tip of Australia’s Homelessness Problem

Empty park, empty paths, empty park bench
Down a Tree-Lined Path photo by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
An Adelaide view of Australia's serious homeless problem. Can't see any? Not even on the bench? You're getting the right picture. 90%+ are not rough sleepers.

A recent report for the Australian Homeless Monitor attempts to find a prescription for future action by making sense of Australia’s homelessness problem as it has evolved over the last several years.

The report acknowledges the counter-intuitive benefits of the pandemic to the some of the country’s homeless, thanks to efforts to rapidly find shelter for rough sleepers in order to protect them, as well as their communities, from COVID-19. However it identifies an important turning point several years earlier when the rough sleeper problem became so visible it turned into a political embarrassment, spawning a surge of activism and a flurry of government initiatives to “fix” the problem.

While the present focus on rough sleepers is a step in the right direction, the Australian Monitor report warns against equating the population of highly visible rough sleepers with the true scope of people who experience homelessness. Australia’s 2016 census identified 8,000 rough sleepers nationally — less than a tenth of 116,000 people identified as homeless by the same census, the vast majority of whom find other solutions to their dilemma than living on the sidewalks of cities.

This problem, and its potential solutions, are no means unique to Australia. Other nations also have highly visible rough sleeper populations which are a small fraction of a much larger number of people experiencing homelessness.

For more on the report and the substantial homelessness challenge Australia faces both now and in the near future, read more in THE CONVERSATION: COVID Spurred Action On Rough Sleepers But Greater Homelessness Challenges Lie Ahead