A number of governments, mid-pandemic emergency, are congratulating themselves for erasing rough sleeping through a dog’s breakfast of temporary shelter solutions that sweep this most visible manifestation of homelessness off the streets.
What next? Can governments capitalize on their blips of social consciousness to achieve a far greater goal — the actual elimination of homelessness? Australian governments, spurred by eager activists, begin to explore the issue.
The experience of homelessness is national in scope, with the mobility of rough sleepers not limited to one or another state in the nation. Nevertheless, the response, in Australia, falls most squarely on state governments as well as local communities.
Much of the thinking about permanent homelessness solutions revolve around building significant quantities of affordable housing. And the reality of providing housing to the people with the lowest incomes, or no incomes at all, directs attention towards social housing.
However, there are no less than three different groups of citizens, with very low or no income, who vie for Australia’s limited social housing stock.
There are people already on social housing waiting lists who are housing cost-burdened. They rent in the free market at prices they can barely pay.
There are people who aren’t visible, many of whom work at jobs that do not pay enough to allow them to rent independently. They couch surf, or stay with family or friends.
A small fraction of the people who experience homelessness are rough sleepers. They form the ‘public face’ of homelessness. A significant fraction of this fraction require more, sometimes much more, support in addition to housing. Are they therefore more trouble than state or city can manage?
Meanwhile, the Australian federal government seems focussed on a national dream of ownership.1 Social housing plans, insofar as they even exist (let alone attract funding dollars) are largely theoretical constructions.
Read more on how individual Australian states are planning to tackle homelessness post COVID-19 in The Guardian: Homelessness: Can The Covid-19 Crisis Help End Rough Sleeping In Australia For Good?