Rates of homelessness in Newcastle rise as new report shines light on Australia's rough sleepers

ROUGH sleepers are most likely men aged 35 and above who are unemployed, live alone, and have mental health, drug or alcohol issues, the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report shows.

The first-of-its-kind report, released on August 3, aims to “shine a spotlight” on Australia’s “rough sleepers” – people living on the streets, sleeping in parks, squatting, and living in cars or impoverished dwellings – to explore the circumstances, experiences and housing outcomes of those who sought assistance from specialist homelessness services between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2015.

The report found that in major cities, males were more likely to receive help from homeless services at 66 per cent, compared to 53 per cent of females.

But in regional areas, females were more likely to be receiving services at 42 per cent, compared to 32 per cent of males.

While the report did not break down homelessness by geographical areas, the Newcastle Herald understands there were approximately 2700 homeless people living in the Hunter New England area in 2016, a 12 per cent increase since 2011.

In Newcastle, there were about 800 homeless people in 2016 – an increase of around 22 per cent since 2011.

The report, Sleeping rough: a profile of Specialist Homelessness Services clients, showed that of the 116,400 men, women and children who were homeless in Australia on Census night in 2016, about 7 per cent were sleeping rough – a 20 per cent increase since the 2011 Census estimate.

Despite accounting for about one-in-14 Australians experiencing homelessness, rough sleepers were the most visible, and were recognised as some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in society, the report says. It found one-in-three rough sleepers experienced two or more vulnerabilities – such as domestic or family violence (23 per cent), a mental health issue (47 per cent), or drug or alcohol abuse (34 per cent).

Female rough sleepers were four times as likely as males to report experiencing domestic violence at 46 per cent, compared to 11 per cent.

Females were also more likely to live with at least one child at 34 per cent, compared to males at 7 per cent.

Kelly Hansen, the chief executive of Nova for Women and Children, said family violence was one of the major reasons females in the Hunter community sought their services.

“Domestic violence appears to still be the leading factor for women, and children, becoming homeless,” she said. “However, we also need to look at poverty, and the private rental market, which we have found is impacting on older women.”