Guest Article: By Glen Poole – published with permission.
According to Homelessness Australia’s Sector Briefing on Homelessness Estimates, the 2011 Census night found that of the 105,237 people identified as being homeless, 56% are men and boys. These figures are generally thought to be an underestimate but they also hide another important fact when considering this serious social issue—-the majority of people experiencing the most severe forms of homelessness are men.
To understand the figures properly you first have to understand what we mean by “homelessness”. There are many different definitions of homelessness used around the world and in Australia three categories are generally used as follows:
- Primary homelessness experienced by people without conventional accommodation (eg those sleeping out or in an improvised dwelling such as a tent)
- Secondary homelessness experienced by those moving from one temporary shelter to another (eg couch surfing, living in emergency accommodation or refuge etc)
- Tertiary homelessness experienced by those living in accommodation that falls below minimum community standards (eg boarding housing and caravan parks)
What does homelessness mean to you?
Only the first category reflects what most people popularly imagine as being homeless, which is the roofless loner carry all his (or her) possessions on the their back and sleeping out each night.
The other categories are connected to this conception of homelessness, particularly the secondary category of couch surfing or moving from one temporary shelter to another, as this chaotic and impermanent way of living is often a slippery slope to primary homelessness if not addressed.
Tertiary homelessness can also place those who experience it closer to secondary and primary homelessness than the rest of the population, though it isn’t what most of us would consider homeless.
This doesn’t mean it isn’t a serious social issue. The impact of living in accommodation that falls below minimum community standards on people’s health, educational opportunities, economic participation, personally safety and general happiness and wellbeing should not be underestimated.
Most people without a home are men
Living in overcrowded accommodation, however, is not the same as sleeping rough. Being “homeless” in the modern definition is not the same as being “roofless”. From a gender perspective, when we look closely at the Census figures we are find there are five categories of homelessness which reveal the hidden nature of male homelessness as follows:
- The numbers living in overcrowded accommodation is equal (50.9% males, 49.1% females)
- The numbers living in supported accommodation is equal (51% females, 49% males)
- Slightly more men are staying temporarily in another household (56% male 44% female)
- Significantly more men are living in boarding houses (74.8% males, 25.2% females)
- Significantly more men are living in improvised dwellings, tents and sleeping out (67.6% males and 32.4% females)
What becomes clear when you look at these figures, is that men account for the vast majority of the most severely homeless citizens in Australia.
And when we dig down into the detail to find out who is homeless to the point where they are sleeping out on a regular basis, we find an even starker gender split. If you take the annual headcount of people sleeping out in Melbourne, for example, over the past six years (2008-2014) what you find is:
- 75% of those counted are male
- 10-15% of those counted are female
- 10-15% of those counted do not have their gender identified.
In other words, out of those whose gender is identified:
- Between 83% and 88% are male
- Between 12% and 17% are female
So while just over half (56%) of those considered to be homeless by the census are men and boys, when it comes to sleeping out it seems that nearly nine out of ten of the most severely homeless people in Australia are male.
As a final note, it’s also worth highlighting for future discussion that as well as being a men’s issue, homelessness in Australia is also a race issue. According to the Census data 25% of people who are counted as homeless identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. In addition, 30% of people who are counted as experiencing homelessness were born overseas,with people born in China, New Zealand, Afghanistan and India being over-represented in the severe overcrowding figures.
Photo credit: Flickr