The Bible has very demanding things to say about land ownership and resource sharing. The prophets in particular attack those who accumulate land for selfish purposes (Isa 5:8), and provisions are made in Israel’s law to release people from debt and oppressive work conditions. Leviticus 25 asserts that all land is ultimately owned by God, so that releasing people from economic hardship is not to be seen as a matter of charity but a matter of God’s justice. Micah’s vision is of an equitable distribution of resources within which everyone has “their own vine and fig tree” (Mic 4:4).
St Paul applies this vision to the small groups of believers who were living in the context of the Roman Empire: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance” (2 Cor 8:13-14). Within our very different economic system today, the principles of economic discipleship remain the same: do not neglect the welfare of others, especially those who are struggling.
“The Australian Bureau of Statistics definition of homelessness is informed by an understanding of homelessness as ’home’lessness, not ’roof’lessness. It emphasises the core elements of ’home’ may include: a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety, and the ability to control living space. Homelessness is therefore a lack of one or more of the elements that represent ’home’.”
Defining ‘Housing Affordability Stress’
People experience housing stress if they are in the bottom 40% for household incomes and paying more than 30% of their income in housing costs. 
Australia has some of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world according to the 2018 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. The survey shows Sydney is the second most expensive major housing market in the world, with Melbourne ranked fifth. It is estimated that roughly 11% of Australian households have unaffordable housing costs.
Defining ‘Social Housing’
Social housing is rental housing provided by Not for Profit, community organisations or government to assist people who are unable to access suitable accommodation in the private rental market. Types of social housing include Public Housing (owned and managed by the State or Territory government), Indigenous Housing, Community Housing (managed by not-for-profits and receiving subsidies from the government), Crisis & Transitional Housing (community-based housing offering three months to one-year accommodation).
In March 2018 the Australian Bureau of Statistics released information on the extent of homelessness in Australia, based on data from the 2016 census. Homelessness increased 13.7% from 2011 to 2016, with the most significant increases in those who are sleeping rough (increase of 20.4% in five years) and those living in severely overcrowded dwellings (increase of 23.5% in five years). In Victoria alone, there were 22,306 homeless people, which represented an increase of 11.3% over a five-year period. Australia-wide, homeless services have to turn away 250 people each day. Some of the most vulnerable people to homelessness are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, women and children, those who have experienced domestic violence, asylum seekers and older Australians.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
The most vulnerable people to homelessness are Indigenous Australians (3% of the entire population) who make up 25% of those who are homeless. “There is currently a shortage of more than 20,000 properties across Australia that are affordable and appropriate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The shortage of larger culturally appropriate houses that can accommodate kin and increasingly children in kinship care arrangements means that high numbers of Aboriginal people are in severely overcrowded households.” (Click here for more on Reconciliation)
Women and children
“The person most likely to walk into a homelessness service is a woman aged 24-34, most likely with a child in tow. Last financial year, more than 60% of Victorians needing homeless help were female.” More than half of these clients cite domestic violence as the reason for their homelessness. 6506 children seeking homelessness support were fleeing domestic violence. Other significant risk factors for women include “the fact they’re more likely to be in casual and low-paid employment and that they have lower super and savings due to time out of the workforce caring for children.” Homelessness only exacerbates these financial vulnerabilities. (Click here for more on Family Violence)
An estimated 12,000 asylum seekers, while waiting for refugee status, live in Victorian communities. Most are not permitted to work or access Medicare or government financial support such as Centrelink payments, however, the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) has provided some asylum seekers with $247 per week. In 2018, the Department of Home Affairs began a staggered exit of around 1,500 people seeking asylum and deemed to be ‘work-ready’ from the SRSS, informing them that they have 30 days to find a job before their support will be stopped.  Advocates deem these cuts will create further vulnerabilities to homelessness for asylum seekers. Aside from financial strain for asylum seekers, other barriers to finding adequate accommodation include: trauma, a lack of work history, a lack of rental history, language differences and racism. Often people seeking asylum find government-funded crisis and transitional housing. More commonly, they live in housing provided by specialised non-governmental agencies. (Click here for more on Asylum Seekers)
An increasing number of people entering retirement have never achieved home ownership, with many relying on private and fluctuating rental. With the average rent for a one-bedroom unit in Melbourne at $329/week, older people living on the aged pension can be paying 75% or more of their income on rent. For many, this is untenable. Homeless older women (over 55), while still a relatively small number, are the most rapidly growing cohort, with couch surfing for older women doubling between 2013 and 2017. (Click here for more on Ageing and Elder Abuse)
Since the release of the most recent census data, there has been much conjecture over reasons for the high rates of homelessness, with many seeking solutions through changes to financial and investment policies. Jenny Smith, Chair of Homeless Australia asserts that housing has become an ‘activity for investors’, not (as it should be) ‘shelter for people’.” The call is clear: for generosity. A house should be considered for its potential as a home before its potential as capital or equity. Clearly the supply of social and affordable housing is critical to solving the issue of 100,000 Australians every night without a home.
In 2017 Homelessness Australia published 10 recommendations to government with the aim of strengthening services to people and creating opportunities for the future. Included in these recommendations are ‘rapid rehousing’ to assist women and their children in escaping violence, an increase in the supply of social housing, greater integration across service providers, specialist homelessness services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and for tax reform for housing investors.
Strengthening family relationships is vitally important in reducing a person’s vulnerability to homelessness. “Not only are families important in preventing homelessness but they also appear to be important in assisting individuals out of homelessness.”
Other factors contributing to people exiting homelessness are: being young, being married or in a de facto partnership, having resident children, securing employment and having contact with family.  People in these situations may find solutions to their homelessness more easily, however, policy work, community building, family building, the practice of generosity and embracing compassion remains a task for us all. Being alert to prejudices and entitlement within the community and acting with compassion has recently had positive results for the homeless in Perth (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=108&v=Z4-gGMU7NLE).
There are further opportunities to act and to learn in the section below.
Not-for-profit organisations have been providing affordable and safe housing to many of the most at-risk groups in the community. Baptcare’s Sanctuary (located in Brunswick and Preston) specialises in supporting asylum seekers in accommodation and employment). ‘A key focus of the service is to increase residents’ capacity to secure and maintain independent housing in the community.’The Sanctuary houses 120 people each night. To donate, employ, educate, or volunteer, click here.
Winter Shelter is a Maroondah churches and community response to local homelessness, working with local Christian churches to provide shelter, food and honour for people during the winter months. You can volunteer or involve your church by clicking here.
‘Jubilee Housing Inc. is a community housing initiative of the Box Hill and NewHope Baptist churches and South Croydon Anglican church. We have been operating for over 20 years to provide affordable housing for people in our local communities who are unable to secure adequate housing from the private market.’
Salvation Army Housing (SAH) and Salvation Army Housing Victoria (SAHV) are committed to assist individuals experiencing social disadvantage and to establish and maintain safe, affordable, secure tenancies through the management of a range of high-quality housing options.
Mission Australia Housing
Mission Australia Housing is an innovative, collaborative and values-driven housing organisation. As a part of the Mission Australia Group, we provide social and affordable rental housing to low- and moderate-income households. Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God.’
Homeless Persons Week (Homelessness Week), first full week of August each year
World Homelessness Day, TBC for 2019
Youth Homelessness Matters Day, TBC for 2019
Footnotes  ‘What Is Homelessness | Homelessness Australia’, accessed 20 September 2018, https://www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au/about/what-homelessness.  Emma Baker and Lyrian Daniel, ‘Housing Affordability Stress Affects One in Nine Households, but Which Ones Are Really Struggling?’, The Conversation, accessed 20 September 2018, http://theconversation.com/housing-affordability-stress-affects-one-in-nine-households-but-which-ones-are-really-struggling-96103.  ‘14th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2018’, 2017, 13, http://demographia.com/dhi.pdf.  Baker and Daniel, ‘Housing Affordability Stress Affects One in Nine Households, but Which Ones Are Really Struggling?’  ‘2016 ABS Census Estimating Homelessness Statistics Released’, Mercy Foundation, 17 March 2018, https://www.mercyfoundation.com.au/latest_news/2016-census-estimating-homelessness-statistics-released/.  Indira Naidoo, ‘Increasingly, Australia’s Homeless Are Not Old Men’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 August 2018, https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/the-average-homeless-person-in-australia-is-not-an-old-man-20180810-p4zwpw.html.  ‘Homelessness and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’(Homelessness Australia, July 2017), https://www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au/sites/homelessnessaus/files/2017-07/Homelessness_and_ATSIv3.pdf.  ‘IWD 2018: Homelessness Is a Women’s Issue’, Council to Homeless Persons, 7 March 2018, http://chp.org.au/iwd-2018-homelessness-womens-issue/.  Naidoo, ‘Increasingly, Australia’s Homeless Are Not Old Men’.  Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, ‘What Is the Link between Domestic Violence and Homelessness?’, Text, AHURI, 15 September 2017, https://www.ahuri.edu.au/policy/ahuri-briefs/what-is-the-link-between-domestic-violence-and-homelessness.  ‘IWD 2018’.  Naidoo, ‘Increasingly, Australia’s Homeless Are Not Old Men’.  ‘People Seeking Asylum: Offering Houses of Hope’(Baptcare), accessed 19 September 2018, https://www.baptcare.org.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0028/17695/BC0652-MISSIONDEV-SanctuaryOfferingHousesOfHope-WEB.pdf.  Australian Associated Press, ‘Cuts on 1 April Will Leave Asylum Seekers Homeless, Advocates Warn’, The Guardian, 26 March 2018, sec. Australia news, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/mar/26/cuts-on-1-april-will-leave-asylum-seekers-homeless-advocates-warn.  Wendy Williams, ‘Alarm as Government Begins Cuts to Asylum Seeker Support Services | PBA’,Pro Bono Australia, 27 June 2018, https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2018/06/alarm-government-begins-cuts-asylum-seeker-support-services/.  Williams.  ‘Australia’s Hidden Homeless’, Refugee Council of Australia, 21 March 2018, https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/getfacts/seekingsafety/asylum/australias-hidden-homeless/.  ‘People Seeking Asylum: Offering Houses of Hope’.  ‘Australia’s Hidden Homeless’.  ‘At the Crossroads in Retirement: Older People at Risk of Homelessness’ (Housing for the Aged Action Group, July 2016), https://www.oldertenants.org.au/sites/default/files/at_the_crossroads_in_retirement_hal_report_july_2016.pdf.  ‘IWD 2018’.  Naidoo, ‘Increasingly, Australia’s Homeless Are Not Old Men’.  ‘A National Homelessness Strategy: Why We Need It’ (Homelessness Australia, April 2017), https://www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au/sites/homelessnessaus/files/2017-10/HA%20Position%20Paper%20-%20FINAL_0.pdf.  Andrew Bevitt et al., ‘Journeys Home Research Report No. 6’, Journeys Home (The University of Melbourne, May 2015), 3–4, https://melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/2202865/Scutella_et_al_Journeys_Home_Research_Report_W6.pdf.  Bevitt et al., 3–4.  ‘Accommodation for People Seeking Asylum’, Baptcare, accessed 21 September 2018, https://www.baptcare.org.au/services/housing/accommodation-for-people-seeking-asylum.  ‘Jubilee Housing: Home’, Jubilee Housing, accessed 23 September 2018, http://www.jubileehousing.org.au/.  ‘Salvation Army Housing and Salvation Army Housing (Victoria)’, The Salvation Army, accessed 23 September 2018, https://www.salvationarmy.org.au/en/Find-Us/Victoria/Salvation-Army-Housing/.  ‘Home | Mission Australia Housing’, accessed 23 September 2018, https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/housing/.
Last Updated: November 2018