Report reveals organisations working at full capacity

CANBERRA: Life can be hard on the streets of the Lucky Country.

A new government report said yesterday that one in 100 Australians, many of them teenagers and children, last year arrived at homelessness agencies looking for help.

The streets are especially tough for young women and pre-school children.

The Institute of Health and Welfare's housing and homelessness group said that one in 50 females aged between 15 and 19 used a specialist agency in 2008-09.

And one in 63 children overall, and one in 39 aged four years and younger accompanied by a parent or guardian, turned to an agency for assistance.

Indigenous Australians also suffered heavily.

The report said that 18 per cent of all homelessness agency clients, and a quarter of those with children, were Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders.

Only 2 per cent of the general Australian population aged 10 years and over - and 5 per cent of children under 17 - sought help.

Council to Homeless Persons chief executive Michelle Burrell said the figures painted an alarming picture of agencies operating at full capacity, and did not include those turned away because emergency accommodation was not available.

She said the increasing number of children arriving at homelessness agencies was of particular concern.

"It creates a chaotic situation that often disrupts their schooling and leads to emotional and behavioural problems such as sleep disturbance, eating difficulties, aggression and over-activity, depression, anxiety, grief, trauma and self-harm," Burrell said.

"We're seeing a generation of children growing up without a stable home. This is clearly an unacceptable situation and one governments must focus greater attention on."

Agencies say that the problem is made worse by the fact people in packed crisis emergency accommodation have nowhere else to go.

"For many years we have been told by our members that they are unable to exit people from their crisis services due to the dire shortage of affordable housing," Homelessness New South Wales chief executive Sue Cripps said.

She said the homeless in NSW were being given accommodation support for longer than the national average.

"The report highlights the risk of poor families being unable to obtain affordable housing," Cripps said.

"There is a blockage in the system. Agencies would like to assist people to move on, but there are no available options."

The institute's report comes six months after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pledged to halve overall homelessness and to be able to offer crisis accommodation to all "rough sleepers" who needed it by 2020.

A 2008 Labor white paper on homelessness said this would require reducing overall homelessness by 20 per cent by 2013, equivalent to taking between 750 and 1000 people a year off the streets.

Rudd has established a Prime Minister's Council on Homelessness, and under the national economic stimulus plan launched at the height of the global financial crisis the Government is subsidising almost 20,000 new units for the needy.

But the institute's report underlines the scale of the task.

In 2008-09 almost 205,000 people, including more than 79,100 children, arrived at homelessness agencies.

Most were on the streets because of relationship problems such as domestic violence, especially young men and women under 25.

Men aged more than 25 mainly looked for shelter because of drug, alcohol and substance abuse.

Families most often sought help because they had been evicted or asked to leave their accommodation, the report said.

1 per cent
Of Australians turned up at homelessness agencies looking for help last year

18 per cent
Of all homelessness agency clients were Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders

25 per cent
Of homelessness agency clients with children were Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders