A staggering one in 10 Australians have been forced to sleep rough at some stage in their lives, with research by RMIT University revealing the true plight of the homeless.
The study found about 1.4 million Australians have slept rough while homeless.
The research also found 13 per cent of currently housed Australians had experienced homelessness during their lifetime and half of those had been homeless more than once.
RMIT’s Emeritus Professor Chris Chamberlain and Dr Guy Johnson, from the Centre for Applied Social Research, recently presented their findings at the Australian Social Policy Conference.
“Our survey contradicts the popular conclusion that rough sleeping is rare in modern Australia,” Chamberlain said.
“We found about 900,000 men and 500,000 women – or 7.8 per cent of the population – have slept rough in parks or improvised dwellings, in their lifetime.
“It’s been generally estimated that about 100,000 Australians have ever slept rough yet our research reveals a staggering 1.4 million have done so.
“The statistics are startling because they are so unexpectedly high. Nobody had any idea that the numbers were this big.”
The researchers set out to identify how many Australians had experienced homelessness during their lifetime through a random survey of 1349 people, and to compare their findings with Census data.
“The Census is carried out in August when it is bitterly cold and Census collectors are not going to find people sleeping rough at that time of year,’’ Chamberlain said.
“Most people are hiding away for warmth and, of course, hiding away for safety.
“The 2011 Census counted just 6800 rough sleepers, but crucially, the Census does not ask if people have ever experienced homelessness.”
The study found 15 per cent men and 11 per cent of women had been homeless.
“Our findings show men are more likely to experience homelessness than women, but a significant number of Australian women have been in the same boat and half of them have slept rough,’’ Chamberlain said.
“It is normally taken for granted that it’s only men who sleep rough – but this is another myth.”
Story: Kelly Ryan