In July 2014, QCOSS began working on the Home for Good campaign with the support of the Queensland Government. QCOSS was asked to work with 17 communities throughout Queensland to develop a unique snapshot of homelessness in their community.
The Home for Good initiative was based on the understanding that ending homelessness will require a whole-of-community response. All sectors of society need to be involved, including governments, not for profits, business, civil institutions and citizens generally, if we are to effect real and lasting change.
Homelessness is not a choice.
QCOSS’ primary purpose for undertaking the Home for Good campaign across regional Queensland, in conjunction with the Queensland Government and local partners, was to raise awareness about the issues surrounding homelessness, and to engage community participation in identifying and responding to need at a local level. QCOSS’ secondary purpose for the project was to use data on need to inform strategic thinking at a policy and program design level, in order to improve long term outcomes for people who experience homelessness.
Home for Good surveys have given a voice to thousands of Queenslanders who would otherwise remain voiceless. The health issues these people experience, their contact with the justice system, their history of substance or physical abuse and what they each need to feel safe and well have all been explored and recorded in a way that is respectful and person-centred.
Every region visited through Home for Good showed its own unique issues of homelessness, risk of homelessness and disadvantage.
Some of the issues facing Queenslanders include:
Undersupply and Overcrowding
Faced with an economic downtown towards 2012, the incoming Cooktown council an adopted an aggressive “open for business” economic development strategy, resulting in a strong response with an influx of new residence, businesses and the construction of two new schools. Unfortunately this boom was not accompanied by a match in housing.
The Cooktown District Community Centre (CDCC) lead the Home for Good registry week in April 2015, inviting the QCOSS Coordinator to visit indigenous communities in Laura, Wujal Wujal and Hope Vale to conduct surveys and capture some of the real needs in each of these communities. Local police assisted staff and volunteers during the project and conducted surveys, and Home for Good was happily anticipated with local media coverage.
Community members were in contact in the lead up to planned surveys to ensure they and their circumstances were captured. The survey found some households had as many as 14 people living in one house, living in cramped and oft decrepit quarters. The Department of House and Community Housing worked with the community to find urgent solutions, but Cooktown needed an out-of-the-box approach looking at affordable, cost effective, long term solutions to housing.
The Home for Good Registry Week survey was the first time real statistics were recorded in Cooktown.
The Home for Good campaign collected a range of information on health conditions that impact people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness, and the data was quite revealing.
Some statistics to consider:
- Of those that took part in the state-wide campaign, almost 80 per cent of individuals and 73 per cent of families reported mental illness, or having utilised mental health services at some point in their lives.
- 22 per cent of individuals surveyed reported suffering from asthma, in addition to 40 per cent of families stating that either themselves or a family member suffer from the condition.
- 48 per cent reported a history of problematic drug and/or alcohol use.
- Close to 30 per cent had been physically attacked or assaulted.
- Around a quarter stopped taking medication due to selling, losing, or failing to have prescriptions filled.
- More than 43 per cent reported experiencing some kind of emotional, physical, psychological, sexual or other type of trauma.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experiencing homelessness and non-Indigenous respondents reported similar levels of problematic drug and/or alcohol use and non-beverage alcohol use, as well as relapse following treatment.
Participants were also surveyed around cognitive health – assessing the presence of any issues that might affect thought, judgement, knowledge or memory. This included problems concentrating, learning or developmental disabilities, as well whether the participant had suffered any serious brain injury or head trauma.
More than half of those surveyed aged under 70 reported experiencing problems with memory and concentration. Close to one in four (23.9 per cent) reported having a learning or developmental disability, and over 18 per cent had experienced a serious brain injury or similar head trauma.
Every number represents an individual; every characteristic, action and experience belongs to a person; and homelessness is about people and humanity. Queenslanders surveyed obviously did not choose to be abused or traumatised, have poor concentration, have brain injuries of head trauma, have learning developmental disabilities, or be hospitalised against their will for mental health issues – but the data makes it clear these issues are over-represented among people facing homelessness in Queensland.
Youth and Aged
It’s safe to say the Home for Good outreach team in Mackay encountered a wide spectrum of people during their survey period. Volunteers interviewed locals, ranging in age from 12 years to those in their late sixties who were rough sleeping throughout the city.
The team encountered a small band of adolescents who claimed they were beaten by parents, some of whom were struggling with addictions, encamped behind a dinghy alongside a disused wharf-side warehouse. Some were long-term homeless; swags hidden behind cinderblock toilers, sleeping on metal benches, balconies, dotted across the city centre, or under houses on its fringes. Some camped in highly visible locations preferring to drink in the city than abstain at home.
On the other end of the age spectrum, there were many examples of people who rebuffed offers of assistance – such as the unwashed man clawing at the rungs of a steel security gate as he groaned his way through the night in his cave of an arcade; the well-kept septuagenarian who reads James Pattinson outside the shopping centre until it’s time to sleep on a steel bench; the self-proclaimed angelic sun-worshipper who lives in a flowerbed; or those who have chosen the streets over emergency accommodation. Although only 6.3 per cent of those surveyed were over 60, almost half of the sample were aged between 31 and 50 – comprised of a relatively even mix of gender (47 per cent female, 53 per cent male).
In the case of the youth, they liaised with the Youth Information & Referral Service (YIRS) to ensure reunification options were explored, and notification requirements met – but encountered issues with explaining young peoples’ location to a distant agency in Townsville, as well as an immediate lack of crisis accomodation suitable for those aged under 16. Though thankfully a solution was found for the group sleeping by the wharf.
Homelessness does not age discriminate.
Drought and Weather
Surveying in Longreach, Anglicare found the region had quite different needs than regions previously considered quite comparable. Drought impacts areas in many ways, and homelessness can look quite different in these regional and outback communities.
Rough sleeping can be a part of farm life, as workers like shearers can move from property to property and commonly sleep in tents or cabins temporarily on properties throughout a single season. But prolonged drought conditions can mean not only a loss of income and financial disadvantage for farmers, but also for workers depending on well-stocked farms for their income stream.
Over in another agriculturally rich region of lush vegetables and waving corn fields – the Lockyer Valley – residents are dependant on regular flooding throughout the area, and are acutely aware of the risks and significant personal cost of such events.
During Registry Week in the region, flooding rains were expected in association with 2015’s Cyclone Marcia. Lead survey agency, Laidley Crisis Care and Accomodation (LCCA), discovered a couple with four children had been living in a tent for some time. Although the children still attended school regularly, the family was finding it difficult to survive on Centrelink benefits, and they became very concerned about remaining safe, dry and well during possible flood activity.
As a consequence of the interview with LCCA, management of a local hotel graciously offered four nights free accomodation for the family during the worst expected period.
Though not everyone is as fortunate during trying weather conditions.
Is there a link between incarceration and chronic homelessness in Queensland? Are certain subpopulations in the community more at risk of imprisonment while homeless? When analysing the effect of particular demographics and risk factors it may not be a coincidence that prison, foster care and cultural background are leading indicators of chronic homelessness (in this case, defined as more than 12 months spent homeless).
The Home for Good surveys found 36 per cent of individual participants had served time in prison, and those identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander were over-represented – males were 14.91 per cent more likely to experience both homelessness and incarceration, and females 13.07 per cent more likely.
Interactions with the prison system and foster care system increase the likelihood of being chronically homeless by 14.96 per cent and 10.8 per cent respectively while survey participants who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander face an 8.76 per cent increased chance of spending more than 12 months homeless.
The data tells us that ideally those who are either experiencing homelessness or at-risk of homelessness and encountering mental health problems, problematic drug and alcohol issues, chronic health issues or a combination of all of the above should be receiving treatment in the community prior to being incarcerated.
In a perfect world housing would be affordable, permanent supportive housing (inclusive of social and health supports) would be available for chronically homeless and complex clients and mental health and drug and alcohol services would provide timely prevention and treatment services ensuring this problem was addressed.
In the interim, there is still a significant body of work to be done for people who are currently involved in the corrections system to lower the chance of reoffending and cycling between homelessness and prison.
Regional reports, resources, and further reading
All statistics and information compiled throughout this report has been sourced from the reports and documents below.