Living Homeless

Homelessness in Australia continues to increase and the definition of who is experiencing homelessness has broadened.

(Article published in 2019)

In Australia today (2019) over 120,000 people are homeless with that number increasing by 13.7% in 5 years*. 58% are male and 42% female, with people over 55 experiencing a 28% increase in homelessness. They are the new face of a silent epidemic.


In 2018/2019 TACSI worked with the SA Housing Authority to look at the systemic challenges that needed to be addressed in their housing strategy.

A huge part of the work that we have done, is to understand people’s lived experience of the housing system, including homelessness, and help to surface their ideas for what would make a real difference.

The system itself has been operating in much the same way for decades.

Oh my god you’ve been on a waiting list for a house longer than I have been alive.

Younger homeless man commenting when an older attendee spoke about being on the public waiting list for decades

Reimagining the system

In 2018 we held face to face workshops with a number of people who identified as being houseless or homeless. Our framing around these workshops was partially about having the space to reimagine the system of housing and supports, and what that could look like. This work formed part of a longer strategic partnership informing the SA Housing and Homelessness Strategy report that was released in 2019.

People from both ends of the ageing spectrum, including people with a chronic experience of homelessness, survivors of domestic family violence, people with disability and Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people shared their experiences with us.

They articulated the issues they faced on a daily basis and were able to surface the ideas they saw as potential solutions to the system. Additionally we heard from men and women who had experienced homelessness and who themselves ideated a raft of inventive and engaging ideas that could provide the platform for a more holistic approach.

What we saw is that they have the very ability to be the architects of a better system.

What they identified is that the solutions are much more than just a roof over your head.

What we found was four identifiable assets powering their ability to see opportunities to build a better system.

  1. Their experiences have meant they have to be highly resourceful and make scarcity go far.
  2. They have honed skills in troubleshooting.
  3. They know what makes a good home beyond shelter, because of the absence of (other more material) important things.
  4. They are aware of themselves, and that they cannot address some of the challenges alone.

What emerged from these workshops with people with lived experience, is not that we don’t know the problems the system has, but that these people should be part of shaping the solutions, and actively valued as pioneers in their own lives.

The systemic treatment of homelessness

Systemically homelessness is approached in a cyclical way with homeless people experiencing multiple services, and can find themselves moving from one to the next due to a multitude of factors outside of their control. This is not new, this is known within the system and certainly has a deep impact on their ability to live life. It is important to note that all these services are doing the best they can within the system, and frustration is often felt by employees within these services. A re-engineering of the system is well overdue, for all people engaging systemically.

Opportunities for change

There are however multiple opportunities for change. The system itself is experiencing many blockages preventing the flow of people into the best housing solution for them.

The system often views the response to homelessness in a siloed way by viewing all the components of housing and supports separately. A fluid system that looks at the person as a whole does not currently exist with part of the challenge, we heard though lived experience,  the deep role trauma has in people’s lives. It’s not just about acquiring a home, it’s about the supports and the relearning of how to have a home that is also an identifiable challenge for many homeless people.  Add to that that, many are well networked on the street with a move into housing a removal of those vital informal supports.

These are real people with real initiative, who can identify what their problems are and are able to articulate what challenges they face. These are people who face stereotyping about who they are and how they have come into this situation, when often the reality is far different. With public housing in short supply the removal of choice is also a factor in play within the system.

Removal of choice

Primarily there are two issues that are well known within community and the sector as defining problems for the system.

  1. The issue of flow – Simply put, there is not enough suitable options of shelter in South Australia. This has perpetuated a state of crisis in relation to homelessness with the homelessness sector stalled through funding, increased demand for housing and inability to respond holistically to trauma and mental health barriers homeless people are experiencing.
  2. Being able to respond. The inability of being able to respond in a crisis led system, when people are ready is leading to more crisis. It’s a situation where the crisis itself is perpetuating crisis, leading to a ‘stuck’ system.

The aspire model that is still being applied in SA is well regarded with people with lived experience, but is not available to everybody with the challenge of finding housing in the first place.

Stopping the spiral

With much to be done how can we start to stop the spiral and address the increase of homelessness? With the face of homelessness changing and new reasons for homeless emerging, we need to act.

The system can play a different role in people’s lives. We can reinvent solutions with the people experiencing these challenges, and build supports for those experiencing homelessness.

The journey has started of understanding their experiences and surfacing their ideas and South Australia along with other governments have a significant opportunity to continue to power this forward.

We have heard from people first-hand about what they are experiencing and what they know.

What was powerful about this engagement is the way they began to express ideas around how the system could work. For them it starts with really genuinely hearing who they are and their identity. They want realistic responses to their challenges and authenticity, not fake promises. They can be part of the solution.

Looking forward opportunities and challenges in the way we approach our strategies is about going beyond funding outputs and asset management to seeing that, what we are trying to do, both in housing and in the supports, is create pathways back into social and economic participation. It’s about restoring people back into meaningful connections and purpose. There is a real opportunity for Government and community in brokering the lived experience of people to create agency and tap into experience, to create better opportunities and pathways for change in the housing and homelessness system.  It’s about rebuilding lives, not just providing shelter.

More on the Future of Home

*2016 Census Australia

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