Lifetime and intergenerational experiences of homelessness in Australia
The key research method used to address the study’s research questions was the use of a survey instrument administered to current clients of homelessness services. Data collection occurred between November 2009 and March 2010, and the total number of surveys returned was 647 making the study one of the largest studies of homelessness in Australia. In addition, focus groups with service providers of specialist homelessness services in NSW pursued in more depth issues arising from the survey data.
The research revealed the following key findings:
- Intergenerational homelessness is a significant phenomenon with around half of all respondents (48.5%) to the survey in this study indicating that their parents were also homeless at some point in their lives.
- Many of those presently homeless first experienced it before adulthood—around half of all respondents experienced their first spell of homelessness prior to the age of 18. In most cases where homelessness is experienced before the age of 18, it is a not a single episode but one of several episodes of homelessness.
- Indigenous respondents were more likely to have experienced primary homelessness prior to the age of 18, many before the age of 12, than non-Indigenous respondents.
- Many, but by no means all, respondents experienced significant issues in the home environment prior to the age of 18. The most striking single indicator of this was that around half of all respondents reported that they had run away from home at some point prior to the age of 18. Close to half of all respondents who indicated that they had a father in their life reported that their father had a serious drinking problem. Incarceration rates for fathers were also high. These issues were especially prevalent amongst Indigenous households.
- Significant inter-parental conflict in the home was also evident for many respondents as they grew up. Over half of respondents (58.8%) reported police intervention due to inter-parental conflict.
The study’s findings show that earlier occurrences of homelessness may be a predicator of subsequent adult homelessness and that the role of individual family risk factors appears critical to the experience of many adult homeless people irrespective of the significant influence of system-level responses and the availability of affordable accommodation. This has significant implications for interventions for families.
The study concludes that prevention and early intervention programs, especially those oriented to Indigenous people and children are critical in breaking the cycle of intergenerational homelessness.