The stereotypical image of homelessness is a person (usually a man) who is ‘sleeping rough.’ This refers to an experience in which a person has limited access to housing and occupies improvised shelter. Often, this will be on the street or in other public areas.
Rough sleeping is a complex issue experienced not only in Melbourne’s CBD. In fact, just as many people sleep rough in suburban and rural Victoria.
Over the five year period to 2016–17 in Victoria, there has been a 72 per cent increase in the number of rough sleepers assisted by homelessness services for the first time. This indicates that the number of people sleeping rough is trending upwards, fast. As a result, the sector is often overwhelmed by demand for homelessness services, many of which have remained unchanged for decades.
Despite this increase, it is still the case that rough sleepers are not the largest group of people experiencing homelessness, though it may be more visible.
Whereas rough sleeping is the stereotypical image of homelessness, the term also refers to people who are at risk of homelessness and who require assistance in receiving services to ensure that they can find or can remain in safe and secure housing. The term ‘housing insecurity’ is sometimes used to describe these experiences of homelessness.