Finally, ABS data to corroborate the horrific extent of homelessness – but who really cares
The Northern Territory’s homelessness and overcrowding rates remain the worst in the nation, and one of the worst in the world according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Human Rights Alliance (HRA). Grandson of Vincent Lingiari, Maurie Japartu Ryan, and leader of the fledgling Aboriginal political party, First Nations, said it is time Aboriginal people, alongside those who really care, finally take the reins and remedy the impost of wrongs. His political party influenced the outcome of the recent Territory election and he said that Aboriginal people will not continue to accept poverty, homelessness and second class citizenry in their own Country.The most recent ABS Census in reference to the rise and extent of homelessness which much news media is now jumping on in dishing out stories that will soon peter out till the next Census, five years away, corroborates investigations, research and articles on the extent of Aboriginal homelessness late last year and earlier this year by The Stringer.
The Stringer reported late last year the rise of Aboriginal homelessness in the Northern Territory and that little was changing for those sleeping rough or disempowered in acute overcrowding. The Stringer, alongside The National Indigenous Times, were the only news media in Australia sustaining coverage on the extent, and the rise, of homelessness in the mining rich Kimberley region of Western Australia, and again in other regions of Western Australia and South Australia, and in Perth city.
We visited the Kimberley’s One Mile Community, Kennedy Hill, the homeless on Broome’s sand dunes, and the homeless in the marshlands of Wyndham, Oombulgurri’s homeless, Derby’s nightmare, Port Hedland’s, Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s Ninga Mia tragedy where children sleep under corrugated iron and cardboard and on Perth’s streets and parks where near half the rough homelessness is Aboriginal and whom the Census have a tough time of finding – they don’t according to those we have met.
The 2012 ABS reported that one of the key three groups of homelessness in Australia remains Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and little has improved. The ABS reported that in 2011 alone there was a rise in the total number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – rising by 3 per cent, by 26,744. So where is all the housing that Minister Jenny Macklin has been claiming has been built in Aboriginal communities?
The ABS reported that Aboriginal peoples were over represented in the 2011 homelessness estimates – accounting for 25 per cent of homelessness despite being only 2.5 per cent of the total population. They also accounted for 15 per cent of peoples languishing in predominately overcrowded supported accommodation. However the ABS admitted, “In supported accommodation the not stated rate for Indigenous status is double that for all homelessness and may mask an even higher proportion of Indigenous people in supported accommodation.”
The latest Census figures describe a rise in the number of homeless people – a rise by 8 per cent in the five years to 2011. The ALP’s promise that they would eradicate homelessness by 2020 will not happen. Total homelessness in 2001 stood at 95,314, and dropping to 89,728 however under the ALP has risen and has shot to 105,237 in 2011 according to the ABS.
Homelessness in the Northern Territory remains at disgraceful levels, and keeps the Territory in third-world conditions. More than 7 per cent of the whole of the Northern Territory’s population remains homeless – this means Governments have not been adequately funding housing and infrastructure in the Northern Territory, and have in effect continued to discriminate against the Northern Territory. More than 90 per cent of the homelessness in the Northern Territory is Aboriginal.
Federal Minister for the Homeless, Brendan O’Connor, said Aboriginal homelessness remains “shameful for Australia” and that “we cannot hide from this.” However he has no answers other than to claim that Minister Macklin has been building the houses in the last year that “we had been slow in building in previous years but there have been houses built now and more are being built.”
Mr O’Connor said he wants to know where States and Territories are spending funds provided to them by the Commonwealth to build affordable housing. He has written to his State and Territory counterparts to provide him the names of the agencies they have disbursed funding under the $1.1 billion joint State-Federal National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NAPH) and which came into effect in 2009.
“I am yet to hear from Victoria or the Northern Territory so I can only assume that they will not provide the information. Regrettably, NSW, Queensland and Western Australia have refused to provide the information,” said Mr O’Connor.
Mission Australia is calling for the Federal and State ministerial portfolio holders for homelessness to renew their commitment to the NAPH. Mission Australia’s John Toomey said, “Australia will not meet its goal of halving homelessness and providing all rough sleepers with access to accommodation by 2020 without a new NPAH.”
Nationally there are 49 homeless people for every 10,000 persons, this is up from 45 per 10,000 in 2006, and the brunt of the rise has been borne by Aboriginal peoples and of people born overseas. Human Rights Alliance spokesperson Natalie Flower pointed out that homelessness accounts for 0.5 per cent of Australia’s population, however in the Northern Territory it accounts for more than 7 per cent, and for more than a fifth of the whole of the Territory’s Aboriginal population, and nearly a tenth of all Aboriginal peoples nationwide. “It clearly reflects that funding is not meted equally between Australia’s peoples, and it means that Aboriginal peoples are discriminated against, this is self-evident. If it takes several billion for housing and services to be sorted once and for all for Aboriginal peoples then it should have been sorted, the funds found. This funding allocation would have led to less Aboriginal peoples victimised by poverty and hunger and into prisons – we would have reduced incarceration rates of Aboriginal peoples, we would have reduced the numbers of their children taken away by the State, the number who fall ill unnecessarily and burden the health system, all because we have not funded the elimination of intergenerational poverty – only pretending to do so.”
“It is racism, end of story.”
Mr Ryan said the rise of his political party, now federally registered after its Territory election debut, can become “a balance of power” in a political landscape that is now contingent on “preferences” and “coalitions.” “Our rise in the Northern Territory can be duplicated federally, and it only takes most of our people to vote for us nationally, and for other likeminded people of good heart and sense to vote for us to give us the voice that will bring on funding, changes, what needs to be done.”
The First Nations party will be running candidates in every jurisdiction at the 2013 federal elections.
The ABS reported that in the Northern Territory, 85% of the homeless were in severely crowded dwellings in 2011. Severe crowding in the other States and Territories ranged between 12 per cent in Tasmania to 43 per cent in Western Australia. The ABS reported “Compared to other States and Territories, the Northern Territory also had a high rate of homeless persons in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out at 40 per 10,000 persons. The next highest rates were in Western Australia and Queensland, each 4 per 10,000 persons.”
People living squalid in crowded dwellings was still highest, according to the ABS, in the Northern Territory with 244 per 10,000 persons. Minister Macklin and Minister O’Connor have much work ahead of them and till they achieve a significant reduction they need to stop claiming achievements that ABS figures alone prove are just not true – said both Mr Ryan and Ms Flower.
Persons living in other crowded dwellings, Rate per 10,000 of the population – 2011.
The ABS latest figures on Aboriginal homelessness corroborate earlier research and investigations by both The Stringer and the Human Rights Alliance – and that Aboriginal homelessness is probably higher than the official ABS estimates. The ABS reported, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians accounted for 25 per cent of all persons who were homeless on Census night in 2011… 75 per cent were living in severely crowded dwellings… 12 per cent were in supported accommodation for the homeless and 6 per cent were in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out.”
“The estimate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were homeless on Census night is likely to be an underestimate, particularly for those staying temporarily with other households, reflecting both a relatively large under-enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons in the Census and because for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians a usual address may be reported that is associated with a ‘place’ rather than with a home or dwelling.”