Homeless on the Streets: Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Invisible homeless people on our streets are the symptom of a much larger and hidden homelessness problem

Most homeless people are hidden from public view. What we’re currently seeing on the streets of Melbourne represents only a tiny proportion, about 6-10% of the homeless population. The characteristics of the visible homeless are very different to those that we don’t see. The invisible homeless are people who because they lack accommodation options are forced to couch surf, stay in boarding houses, caravan parks, or double up with family and friends. They are often families, more often women, younger people and they are more directly affected by structural factors.

Some key structural factors driving housing instability and homelessness are:

  • Labour market conditions
    • Unemployment rates, including long-term unemployment
    • Availability of low skill jobs
  • Housing market conditions
    • Lack of affordable housing
    • The flow of new lettings; rent level
  • Household dissolution
  • Poverty
  • De-institutionalisation
  • Welfare conditions

Those that sleep rough (the visible homeless) are affected by these problems as well but they tend to have a lot of other problems like mental health and drug use. These problems are, however, often a consequence of homelessness not its cause.

While much media attention has focused on rough sleepers in Melbourne, sleeping rough is not an inner city phenomenon. Rough sleeping is an issue in the suburbs, in regional, rural and remote areas as well.

Want to know more? 

Johnson, G. and C. Chamberlain (2008). ‘Homelessness and Substance Abuse: Which Comes First?’, Australian Social Work. 61(4): 342-356.

Johnson, G. and C. Chamberlain (2011). ‘Are the homeless mentally ill?’, Australian Journal of Social Issues. 46(1): 29-48

This post is part of our series on homelessness.

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