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Research Summary

This study examined the changing geography of homelessness. It outlines the extent to which homelessness has become more spatially concentrated over time; where it has risen and fallen; and the importance that housing affordability, poverty and labour market opportunities play in reshaping its distribution.

Research Outcomes

  • Homelessness on a per capita basis remains highest in very remote areas but is becoming more dispersed nationally with concentrations in major cities growing over time, particularly in the most populous states (NSW and Victoria). By 2016 capital cities accounted for just under two-thirds of all homelessness nationally. 
  • Changes in homelessness rates between 2001 and 2016 are largely due to factors specific to regions, with little of the change accounted for by the mix of homelessness operational groups in a region or overall national trends.
  • Homelessness is rising in areas with a shortage of affordable private rental housing and higher median rents. This rise is most acute in capital city areas, specifically, Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne.
  • The area supply of affordable private rental housing is statistically significantly associated with the variation in homelessness rates nationally, in capital cities and regional areas. Overcrowding accounts for a large part of this variation across areas after controlling for other area-based attributes.
  • The impact of labour markets varies across capital cities, regional towns and remote areas. Overcrowding in capital cities is strongly associated with weak labour markets and poorer areas that have a higher than average concentration of males. However, these associations do not hold for overcrowding in remote areas.
  • Nationally and in capital cities rates of overcrowding are highest where there is a concentration of children aged less than 14 years. For other forms homelessness, rates are elevated in areas with high concentrations of those aged between 25 and 40 years. In regional and remote areas, rates of all forms of homelessness are elevated in areas with high proportions of children aged below 14 years. Homelessness is lower in city, regional and remote areas where there is a higher than average concentration of married people.
  • Area based overcrowding is most strongly associated with areas that are more culturally and linguistically diverse. The area-based share of Indigenous persons remains the strongest determinant of homelessness in remote areas.
  • There is a substantial mismatch between the distribution of homelessness and specialist homelessness service capacity. Nationally, in 2016, 48 per cent of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) accommodation capacity and 44 per cent of support capacity would need to shift across SA3 boundaries to better align with the distribution of homelessness. Service mismatch is most obvious in the areas where Indigenous people are living in overcrowded dwellings.

"A continued and expanded affordable housing supply-side response is critical to making inroads into preventing and resolving homelessness." - Dr Sharon Parkinson from Swinburne University of Technology

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AHURI Final Report 313