Contrary to popular belief or understanding, sleeping rough only represents a small number of Australia’s homeless population. Homelessness is so much more than just seeing someone sleeping in a shopfront in the city or begging at the front of your local supermarket and is often caused by a wide range of complex social, structural and systemic factors.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines someone as homeless if their current living arrangement:

  • Is in a dwelling that is inadequate; or
  • Has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable; or
  • Does not allow them to have control of or, access to space for social relations.

There are so many misconceptions and myths about what homelessness actually is in Australia. So, we’ve decided to debunk a few myths and share some insight into the real issue faced by over 116,000 people every day.


There are many causes of homelessness in Australia but drugs and alcohol represents a very small cause of homelessness. In fact, research conducted by RMIT highlighted that people’s misuse of drugs and alcohol actually resulted from their experience of homelessness rather than causing it.  According to the most recent census data, the leading cause of homelessness in Australia is actually a lack of housing (45%). Other leading causes in escaping family violence (26%); money/income issues (12%); relationship/family breakdowns (8%) and mental/physical illness and/or addiction (3%).


Rough sleepers only represent 7% of the homeless population, with the vast majority of homelessness hidden from view. In fact, 44% of people experiencing homelessness are staying in overcrowded dwellings. Other places people are staying include supported accommodation (18%), boarding houses (15%) and couch surfing (15%). The vast majority of homelessness is often invisible to the broader public.

Whilst males account for 58% of the homeless population in Australia, it is important to know that people under the age of 25 make up 37% of the entire homeless population –including more than 16,200 kids under the age of 12. Over the past 10 years there has also been a steep, 49% increase of people aged 55+ experiencing homelessness – particularly females.

This is a complicated and complex statement… Firstly, there is the obvious need to secure a stable and affordable rental. Vacancy rates are low and have remained that way for a long time. Data from the REIV shows that the rent of those vacant house are generally more than people on low incomes can afford:


Vacancy Rate

Weekly Median Rent (Houses)


June 2020

May 2020

June 2020

May 2020











Even if or when someone secures a stable and affordable rental, there’s the ongoing support needed to ensure that person or people have access to other services like mental health care, medical care, employment support and social/community connection (that’s where organisations like Youth Projects are critical in providing additional support). Some of our clients have shared their experiences with public housing waiting lists with some reporting that they've been waiting on the list for up to 12 years!

Homelessness in Australia has increased 13.7% between 2011 and 2016, meaning 116,427 Australians are now experiencing homelessness on any given night. Homelessness has actually risen 30% in the last decade and 261 people are turned away from homelessness services every day due to a lack of housing and resources. On top of that is the alarming fact that over 3 million Australians are currently living below the poverty line, living day-to-day facing a vicious cycle of financial insecurity and social challenges. So, yeah, we think homelessness is actually a pretty big deal.


Next time someone makes a throw away comment about homelessness, we hope you feel empowered to educate them on the reality and facts! Just because someone does not have a safe and secure home, it does not mean they are any less human than the next person is. For more facts about homelessness, check out Council to Homeless Person’s.

If you would like to create change and help us break the cycle of disadvantage, please consider donating to Youth Projects today.


Sources | Johnson, G., Parkinson., S, Tseng, Y., & Kuehnle, D. (2011) Long-term homelessness: Understanding the challenge - 12 months outcomes from the Journey to Social Inclusion pilot program. Sacred Heart Mission, St Kilda  | ABS Census, Estimating Homelessness, 2016, cat no. 2049.0 | AIHW, Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2016-2017, cat no. WEB 217 | CHP analysis of AIHW Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2016- 2017, cat no. WEB 217 | ABS, Census of Population & Housing: Details of Overcount & Undercount, 2016, cat no. 2049.0