Why are special services needed to address Indigenous homelessness?

Paul Memmott, Christina Birdsall-Jones and Kelly Greenop, Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland June 2012

This research report, funded by the Australian Government under the 2009-13 National Homelessness Research Agenda, addresses the question ‘why is it at times necessary to engage special service delivery responses to effectively address Indigenous homelessness?’ 

The authors speak to the concerns of government policy makers in this field generally as well as relevant administrators and non-government organisations (NGOs) engaged in designing programs and services for Aboriginal homeless and public place dwelling people.

They begin with a discussion of the policy context and relevance of the report including a discussion of recent trends in policy towards mainstreaming of services provided for Indigenous homeless people. An introductory section also contains a short historical contextualisation of Indigenous homelessness which aims to demonstrate how it is different to homelessness in other sectors of the community and introduces some of the culturally specific drivers as well as a demographic profile. Various identified historical camping lifestyles will provide a background to the reasons for the currency within Aboriginal living memory of the practice of camping which enables many contemporary Aboriginal people to engage in camping in public places when no other housing option is accessible.

The report contains an analysis of the recent empirical studies of Indigenous homeless people which brings forth some of the specific multiple causes, conditions and implications of Indigenous homelessness. This leads to the development of a set of homeless categories to define the specific conditions of Indigenous homelessness that the authors argue is more relevant and useful for policy makers and service practitioners.

The authors discuss Indigenous public place dwellers and develop a more nuanced understanding than previously reported in the published literature of this little understood phenomenon, based on fieldwork and studies over the past several decades, and illustrated with case study examples. This in turn is linked to the short discussion in Section 4 which outlines the risks faced by rough sleepers.

An analysis of conditions of housed people who are at risk of homelessness which the authors argue is a second category of homelessness that is often overlooked or under-reported in survey and census data and therefore by policy making is discussed.

The report also discusses terms such as ‘spiritual homelessness’, concerns about the nature of practice responses to Indigenous homelessness and public place dwelling, and briefly examines cross-cultural differences in the values underlying whether particular Aboriginal lifestyle behaviours that can be associated with homelessness, may or may not be legitimised.

Below are links to the Full Report and an Evidence Note that provides a summary of the report findings.

Full Report [PDF – 478KB] [DOCX – 827KB]
Evidence Note [PDF – 52KB] [DOCX – 137KB]