The latest data reveals that 122,494 people were estimated to be experiencing homelessness on Census night in 2021. Males made up 55.9% of people experiencing homelessness, whereas females made up 44.1%. 23.0% of all people experiencing homelessness were aged from 12 to 24 years.
Furthermore, in the financial year 2021-2022, Victorian Specialist homelessness services (SHS) assisted 101,675 clients (60.2% female and 39.8% male). There were 61,206 female clients (down 5.5% from 64,749 the previous year) and 40,469 male clients (down 0.7% from 40,761 the previous year). Of the female clients, 21,490 (41.1%) were a lone parent with children. The Victorian rate of homelessness assistance (1 in 64 people) was higher than the national rate (1 in 94 people).
By sex, the Victorian assistance rate was 91.6 per 10,000 persons for female clients compared with 63.2 per 10,000 persons for male clients (average of Victorian local government areas). Victorians aged under 35 make up the majority of those experiencing homelessness, however older women are a fast-growing cohort. Among Victorian females, the leading reasons for seeking assistance are family and domestic violence 55.7%, financial difficulties 42.6%, housing affordability stress 30%, housing crisis 29.4%, inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions 23.5%, relationship/family breakdown 18.2%, lack of family/community support 16.6%, and mental health issues 16.5%.
Homelessness is a significant issue within the SMR (ABS, 2018). Figure 26 shows the rates of homelessness among females in 2021. As can be seen, The LGAS of Frankston, Port Phillip and Greater Dandenong have the largest rates of homelessness per 10,000 population for females (see figure 27).
Measuring homelessness and the impact on women
It is difficult to accurately count the number of homeless people. The Census is delivered to all people in Australia and is therefore considered to be “the best source to get a prevalence estimate of the number of homeless Australian people at any one point-in-time” (ABS, 2018). However, the Census is not able to capture everyone who might be defined as homeless, particularly, for example, women who “move between family members, stay with friends, sleep in cars or vans – anything that will keep them off the streets” (The National Older Women’s Housing and Homelessness Working Group, 2018, p. 7). Therefore, on Census night when displaced people are being enumerated, women will often be counted as a guest staying at a friend’s or family member’s house rather than disclosing their homeless status.
The challenges faced in counting all those that may be defined as homeless means that a large proportion of people will not be enumerated on Census night in the correct form – i.e., as homeless. Yet, a disproportionately higher number of women experience housing instability and homelessness than men, but they are less visible as they are less likely to sleep on the streets. For example, in 2019-2020, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) reported that 60% of clients who accessed specialised homelessness services were female. Moreover, the two leading contributing factors to homelessness affect women significantly more than men. First, domestic and family violence is predominantly experienced by women and children (Ponic, et al., 2011) and leads to difficulties with maintaining housing, paying mortgages, bills or rent, or having to live in temporary accommodations with family and/or friends (Kushel, et al., 2006). Second, older women (meaning, women aged 55 and over) in Australia have a greater risk of housing insecurity and homelessness than their male counterparts and this is tightly bound to their experiences of financial insecurity (The National Older Women’s Housing and Homelessness Working Group, 2018). Recent data shows that homelessness among older Australian women increased by 31% between 2011 and 2016 (Women’s Agenda, 2019). Meanwhile, in Victoria, the same time period saw a staggering increase of 40% (ABS, 2018).
Family violence, housing insecurity and homelessness
Women who leave their homes due to domestic and family violence often find it difficult to secure suitable accommodation (ANROWS, 2019). For example, research has found that more than 90% of first requests by victim survivors to Specialist Homelessness Services for long-term accommodation are unable to be met and nearly 60% of women report experiencing housing stress (ANROWS, 2019).
ANROWS (2019) have identified key issues for women experiencing domestic and family violence and its impact on housing. They include:
- Women forced to leave their homes due to domestic and family violence can have trouble securing long-term accommodation.
- Women leaving domestic and family violence may experience housing stress, even if they stay in their own homes.
- Women’s housing insecurity following domestic and family violence is tied to their economic insecurity.
- Poor housing conditions and overcrowding in Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander communities can exacerbate violence and vulnerability.
- Many women rely on their personal networks for housing after leaving a violent relationship.
- Women sometimes return to violent partners due to housing insecurity.
- More robust evaluations are needed to determine the efficacy of “Safe at Home” programs.
- Crisis-oriented domestic and family violence funding overlooks women’s longer-term housing needs.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019), between 2016-17 and 2017-18, an increase of 10.7% was seen in Victoria in the rate of people seeking support for insecure housing or homelessness because of domestic and family violence. This is a significantly higher increase than that observed across Australia (3.8%). In 2019-20 it was identified (ABS, 2020):
- 119,200 SHS clients had experienced family and domestic violence, equating to 41% of all clients.
- Females made up the majority (90%) of adult (aged 18 years and over) SHS clients having experienced family and domestic violence.
- On average, each client who experienced family and domestic violence received assistance twice from homelessness agencies over the 12-month period (2 support periods per client), with a median of 52 days of support provided.
- More SHS clients who experienced family and domestic violence were at risk of homelessness (63%) upon presentation to an SHS agency, than were homeless (37%).
- There was very little difference in the number and proportion of males (17,900 or 49%) and females (18,700 or 51%) aged under 15 experiencing family and domestic violence.
- 2 in 5 Aboriginal and Torress Strait Islander clients (39% or almost 27,900 clients) had experienced family and domestic violence.
- 3 in 10 (28%) Aboriginal and Torress Strait Islander clients who had experienced family and domestic violence were less than 10 years of age.