What is homelessness?

If you ask yourself ‘what is it to be homeless?’ and if you think ‘what does homelessness look like’ your answer is probably the same as mine would have been before I went to a forum today as part of Homelessness week, What’s on Community, City of Melbourne. Before going to this forum and speaking to Ian Gough from the Council to Homeless Persons (CHP), Tegan Kop from Infoxchange and Mark and Lisa two workers with CHP’s Peer Education Support Program (PESP) I would have said being homeless meant sleeping rough and my image of homelessness would be a person curled up in a street doorway in a sleeping bag.

Home me! posted on the wall at the Town Hall event

It turns out that rough sleepers make up only 5 percent of Victoria’s homeless population. But this is the image we mostly have of what it is to be homeless. Being homeless is all about being without a home and lots of people who don’t have homes aren’t living on the street. The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines someone as being homelessness 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, and access to space for social relations (http://chp.org.au/homelessness/)

This means there are homeless people in all sorts of living situations including boarding houses,supported homelessness accommodation, caravan parks and sleeping on other people’s sofas, ‘couch surfing’. All these people are homeless and they come from a range of backgrounds and circumstances.

‘Having a home’ posted on the wall at the Town Hall event

Family violence is the number one cause of homelessness and nearly 50% of homeless people are under 25 years old. And here’s another interesting statistic – 95% of homeless people have a mobile phone and of these 77% have smart phones. This is from a study undertaken by Justine Humphry of the University of Sydney. This study is a really useful resource when considering creating a web based documentary and points to the question of the audience which I will discuss in my report for week 3. Key findings include that the majority of use of the mobile phone is for calls and texts followed by taking photos and listening to music (Humphry, 2014, p25) but 69% use their phones to access online information and 67% to access social network sites. Mature adult males who have been homeless for some time are more likely not to have a mobile and not to access the internet. They make up 60% of those without a mobile phone. So women and young people are the highest users of mobile phones. The most popular way to access the internet was with a mobile phone using a WiFi hotspot (Humphry, 2014, p32).

As a response to this study Infoxchange is building an app called Ask Izzy to connect people who are homeless and assist them finding support that is close to where they are and open when they need it.

Tegan Kop of Infoxchange who has been involved in the Ask Izzy project advises that in terms of getting participation from homeless people the best place is “Facebook, Facebook, Facebook’. Tegan also gave me some contact information for meeting and talking with people experiencing homelessness. Her advise was to get involved, volunteer, win trust. The CHP is holding its CHP bi-annual conference on September 17 and 18 at the Town Hall. This could be a great opportunity to meet practitoners, consumers and researchers in the area.

The CHP runs a Peer Education Support Program which provides speakers to discuss their experiences of homelessness and the issues around being homeless. Four of these speakers presented at the Town Hall today, Bill, Danny, Lisa and Mark and their insight was really helpful. In discussion with Lisa and Mark after the talk it was mentioned that many women are the invisible side of homelessness and that they are hard to contact. She gave me some advise on how I might start about this.

‘Homeless voices’ posted on the wall at the Town Hall event

So, in summary, I am feeling that this work should look at showing the many different faces and experiences of being homeless. I also think that the consumers, the homeless themselves may not be the prime audience as accessing videos on their smart phones is not a priority for them (see the Humphry study). Certainly shooting content and uploading it to a site would be prohibitive. But working with a key Facebook commuity such as Homeless of Melbourne could be a way of connecting the web documentary with the community. It’s also possible that we make an agreement with the the people running this Facebook community and that’s where we share the video modules that we make.

This short video by Launch Housing captures this range of those who are homeless:


Humphry, Justine. 2014, Homeless and Connected: Mobile phones and the Internet in the lives of homeless Australians, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network

Click to access Homeless_and_Connected_web.pdf



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s