ACT News


Wake-up call as homelessness rises

The rate of homelessness in the ACT has jumped by 70 per cent in the past five years, a figure that community agencies are labelling a ''wake-up call'' for the government.

Latest census data revealed the rate of homelessness in the capital had increased from 29.3 persons per 10,000 in 2006 to 50 persons per 10,000 last year, giving the ACT the second-highest rate of homelessness behind the Northern Territory.

The number of homeless people in the ACT jumped from 949 in 2006 to 1785 last year, climbing much quicker than overall population growth.

ACT Council of Social Services director, Roslyn Dundas, said it was positive that the recent figures reflected the experiences of organisations working with the capital's homeless population.

''It is the big problem that community agencies have been saying it is,'' she said.

''We hope this is a bit of a wake-up call.''


Ms Dundas said although the capital was a wealthy community, its members had to acknowledge homelessness and poverty as an issue.

''We need to be more aware that poverty is part of the ACT community and we need to work together to address this,'' she said.

Amber Clarke, 22, was forced to sleep rough in Sydney following the break down of her marriage in 2010.

The English-born woman had no family or friends in Australia and could not afford the private rental market.

''Homelessness was a big issue for me. I didn't have anyone to turn to. My family kept telling me to come home [to Britain] but this was something I had got myself into so I felt like I had to get myself out of it.''

She found crisis accommodation with the help of Mission Australia's Community Connections and now has a full-time job in Canberra.

Executive officer for ACT Shelter, Leigh Watson, said the data also highlighted the issue of overcrowding in the capital, with 16 per cent of Canberra's homeless reportedly living in ''severely crowded'' dwellings.

''While the report indicated that only 50 people were identified as living in boarding houses in the ACT, we are concerned that there are more of these people included in the 'severely crowded' figure of 280,'' she said.

''Over the past few months, we have received anecdotal evidence of a growth in 'unofficial' boarding houses. As access to housing that is safe, secure, and appropriate is a human right, we are concerned that for these 280 people this is probably not the case.''

The data reported that the majority of homeless in the capital were in supported accommodation for the homeless at 62 per cent, with 18 per cent staying temporarily with other households.

A total of 29 people reported that they slept in tents or outside, with a spokesman for Anglicare ACT stating that the agency was aware of people sleeping in their cars for extended periods of time.

Newly appointed ACT Housing Minister, Shane Rattenbury, said the numbers did reflect anecdotal figures and service providers had been reporting increased pressure.

''In the Parliamentary Agreement, there's a strong commitment to building Common Ground which specifically targets people who are subjected to homelessness,'' he said.

''Common Ground is a specific facility for people who are homeless or on extremely low incomes and it includes a range of services to tackle the problems that generally go hand-in-hand with homelessness, whether it be an addiction or some other problem like that.''

Almost 300 children under the age of 12 were classed as homeless in the ACT last year.

Thirty per cent of the ACT's homeless were aged 18 or under, with half of the homeless between the ages of 19 and 44 years.

Fifty-six per cent of the homeless in Canberra were male.

Nationally, the rate of homelessness increased by 8 per cent from 2006 levels, with a total of 105,237 people - or 0.5 per cent of the Australian population - who were homeless on the August 9 census night last year.


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