There is no consistent definition for homelessness, but Mission Australia sees it as being a problem that goes much further than just not having access to safe shelter. It goes beyond ‘rooflessness’.

People experiencing homelessness include those who sleep rough on the streets or under makeshift dwellings. Although people who sleep rough are most visible to the public, they only represent 7% of the homeless population.

  • Men, women, young people and families staying in refuges or crisis accommodation or who move from one temporary accommodation to another are also considered to be homeless.
  • Then there are Australians of all ages who ‘couch surf’ or stay with friends and family for limited periods of time. Some people also stay in cheap hotels or even in their cars.
  • People living in severely overcrowded dwellings or accommodation that falls well below basic community standards, such as boarding houses and caravan parks, can also be considered to be homeless.

Who is at risk of homelessness?

Australians of all ages and backgrounds become homeless. However, some people are more vulnerable to homelessness than others. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, for example, account for a quarter of all people who are homeless. This is despite making up only 2.5% of the population.

And while 56% of homeless people are male, the number of women experiencing homelessness has risen significantly. Being over the age of 45, renting and single increases a woman's risk of becoming homeless.

Sadly, children and young people are disproportionately affected by homelessness. In 2010, half of the people who sought help from a specialist homelessness services were under 25, and a third we under 17. Two-thirds of these children were with mothers escaping domestic violence.

The causes of homelessness

Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness in Australia.

Homelessness can be the result of many social, economic and health-related factors. From our experience, people can become homeless after many years of experiencing poverty, poor relationships and drug, alcohol or mental health issues.

Sometimes it affects people who have been managing well in life, but are thrown off course by a stressful episode like a relationship break-up, job loss or death of a loved one. This can set off a chain of events that leads to a person being without a place to live.

  • A quarter of people seeking accommodation at specialist homelessness services are there because of domestic and family violence
  • A further 15% seek help because of financial difficulties, while 12% are in housing crisis
  • Another 10% of people who are homeless have been living in inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions.

A shortage of affordable housing and declining home ownership rates also contribute to the nation’s homelessness problem.

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Preventing homelessness

Helping people to get on top of day-to-day issues – not just while they are in crisis but throughout their lives – goes a long way towards breaking the cycle of homelessness.  We offer tenancy support to help people at risk of eviction and teach people life skills such as cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning, so they can maintain their homes and their health.

Support to maintain tenancy

Mission Australia provides life skills and tenancy training, skills such as cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning, so they can maintain their homes and their health, as well as other support as required, to help people vulnerable to homelessness to maintain their leases.

Our staff can also work with people experiencing alcohol and drug problems, mental health issues or gambling addictions – factors that can affect their ability to hold a lease.

Financial counselling

Learning basic money management skills early in life can help people to gain control over their finances and housing situation as adults.

Mission Australia offer financial counselling and education programs to help people work out household budgets, shop around for the best deals and gain a better understanding of how to pay bills and save for the future. Learning basic money management can make the critical difference between staying housed and becoming homeless.

Public perceptions of homelessness

The common perception of a homeless person is an older man with a drinking or drug problem who sleeps in an inner-city park or street. However, we know from our experience and Census figures there is no “typical” homeless person.

Homelessness can affect men, women and children from a wide range of backgrounds living in our cities, suburbs and country towns.

Yet the problem is often masked by the fact that people experiencing homeless move from one temporary solution to another, making do until they can find permanent accommodation.

These people – the ‘hidden homeless’ - move between the homes of family members or, as is often the case with young people who ‘couch surf’, a series of friends. Some stay in refuges, boarding houses, cheap motels, caravans and even cars. As you can imagine, such uncertainty can take an enormous toll on a person’s self-worth and capacity to go to school, find work and stay healthy.

Homelessness also comes at a high social and economic cost to our society, which is why prevention is so vital.

Want to learn more?

View our research on homelessness in Australia.

Homelessness in Australia

Read our Action Plan to reduce and prevent homelessness

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Purpose - 'Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God'