Homelessness Australia, the national peak body representing Australia’s diverse homelessness services sector and advocating for people experiencing homelessness is promoting awareness of diversity in homelessness during Homeless Persons’ Week this year which runs from 1-7 August.
“Homelessness can happen to anyone. People experiencing homelessness come from all walks of life and all age groups. During Homeless Persons’ Week in 2011, Homelessness Australia is raising awareness of diversity in homelessness” Homelessness Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Nicole Lawder said.
Homelessness Australia is also drawing attention to the diverse causes of homelessness and the factors that prevent homelessness from being resolved quickly. “There are many reasons why people experience homelessness, including; domestic violence, family breakdown, the lack of affordable housing, poverty and social inequality. Homelessness can be a complex problem but by addressing these issues and providing more affordable housing we know that it can be solved,” Nicole Lawder said.
Homelessness Australia also points to data and research showing that homelessness is a significant problem among people who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander as well as the need for more research into homelessness amongst those from emerging communities. “One in five people who accessed specialist homelessness services in 2009/10 identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. In addition, data indicates that almost one in ten people counted as homeless on Census night were Indigenous. Homelessness is yet another indicator of disadvantage in which Indigenous Australians find themselves overrepresented,” Homelessness Australia’s Policy and Research Officer, Travis Gilbert said.
“Member services are also reporting that homelessness among members of emerging communities and humanitarian visa entrants is widespread and hidden. We urgently need better data and more research to improve our understanding of homelessness amongst people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds” Mr Gilbert said.
During Homeless Persons’ Week 2011 public awareness is raised nationally in all allied sectors including schools, hospitals and employment industries signifying that reducing numbers of people who are homeless is based on a bipartisan effort and whole of community response.
People born outside Australia less likely to use homelessness services
As the national peak body for all migrant organisations in Australia that advocates for social justice and against all forms of discrimination, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) draws attention to factors such as language barriers, lack of systems knowledge, cultural inappropriateness in the service sector, discrimination and racism, housing issues, and prior social exclusion that contribute to the double disadvantage faced by the homeless people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
According to FECCA, the National Homeless Persons’ Week is an opportunity to raise awareness of the many dimensions of this problem in Australia. The Australian Government has taken steps towards recognising that it is not just lone men on park benches but women, youth, families, and the aged who suffer from homelessness. While commending the diversity focus of its My Address theme, there is need that this diversity is broadened to recognise and target the cultural diversity of homelessness in Australia.
People born outside of Australia are less likely to use homelessness services than the Australian-born population. This relates not to a lesser likelihood of CALD people becoming homeless or suffering its causes, but to a lack of culturally and language appropriate support and information provision, known and accessible to CALD communities, about homelessness services in Australia. Language and culture-specific promotion within CALD communities about homelessness, mental health, trauma counselling, domestic violence, and youth support services, presented in appropriate mediums (for example, via radio or written communications rather than the Internet for communities with low digital literacy), is needed to ensure all members of Australian society are aware of and have access to support services for homelessness and its causal factors.
New migrants and refugees face racial discrimination in private housing market
Homelessness is, of course, intrinsically tied to housing shortages. People of CALD background, particularly new migrants and refugees, face not only public housing shortages but racial discrimination in the private housing market. They are often unable to find housing appropriate and sensitive to such cultural factors as larger family sizes and desires for communal living. For certain CALD communities, such as New and Emerging Communities (NEC) from African countries, larger family sizes are the norm, with families comprising six to ten people not uncommon. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of both public and private housing options for larger families in Australia. Furthermore, even where large enough private rental properties exist, they are often unaffordable for new migrants and refugees who may be living on Centrelink allowances. Even when housing has been found, CALD families have at times been evicted due to lack of compliance with tenant responsibilities of which, due to language barriers and limited systems knowledge, they may be unaware.
There are also clear ties between mental illness and homelessness that comprise particularly difficult barriers for CALD peoples to overcome, due to a combination of low English language proficiency, unfamiliarity with Western medical systems, and often torture and/or trauma during pre-migrant experiences. Furthermore, cultural factors such as the presence of stigma surrounding mental illness in some CALD communities can lead to the exclusion of mental illness sufferers from their communities, or to a resistance in seeking help which can exacerbate the mental illness and, in turn, lead to and perpetuate homelessness.
Youth homelessness is hidden
Youth homelessness in the CALD population, as in the mainstream population, is often hidden due to the couchsurfing behaviours of many youth. The causal factors between these two groups, however, diverge, as pre-migrant trauma, intergenerational conflict, divergence from traditional cultural norms and beliefs, bullying or lack of cultural competence in schools, lack of systems knowledge or knowledge of legal rights, and racial stereotyping are all contributing factors to homelessness that are unique to, or exacerbated for, CALD youth.
A particular cause for concern among refugee or NEC youth is intergenerational conflict. This tends to occur when children adapt to a new culture before their parents, thereby shifting the familial power balance through parents’ reliance on the children’s assistance in accessing wider community. The decision of younger CALD persons to engage in new cultural practices or to reject those of their community, such as arranged marriage or particular forms of dress, can lead to conflict and their isolation within, or exclusion from, the community.
CALD women especially vulnerable to homelessness
CALD women can also be particularly vulnerable to homelessness, often in cases of domestic violence, due to culture-specific stigma and exclusion for single mothers who have left abusive relationships, fear of deportation or of losing children, limited or no knowledge of the Australian legal system or domestic support services, and language barriers in accessing these support services.
Homelessness is a complex issue for all Australians who find themselves in the situation. For CALD Australians, who comprise an increasingly significant proportion of the Australian population overall, not only are the c
ausal factors of homelessn
ess distinctly difficult to address, but oftentimes the services created to address them are an obstacle in themselves due to lack of cultural competency. It is only by acknowledging and directly addressing each of these barriers and disadvantages National Homeless Persons’ Week, and Australia overall, will be able truly assist all people vulnerable or subject to homelessness.