AUSTRALIA’s shocking homelessness statistics – one in every 200 people homeless at any one time, and a staggering one in eight without a home at some point in their lives – are a reminder that the homeless are not just the people we see on the streets. Around 7000 individuals might be sleeping rough on any given night, but many more have ad hoc arrangements with family and friends or are in boarding houses or other temporary or substandard dwellings.
Homelessness is not just the product of too few houses and high rentals. Poor health, and the consequent loss of employment and income, is a major factor. The same people who are most at risk of homelessness – the poor, Indigenous Australians, those with a mental illness, prisoners, and women and children who have experienced domestic violence – have the lowest levels of access to primary care. Homeless people have higher rates of infectious and chronic illnesses and typically use hospital emergency departments and other expensive healthcare services at very high rates. Even if they get the immediate healthcare they need, their recovery is compromised by a lack of housing.