While the most immediately visible aspect of homelessness people sleeping rough on the streets, the reality is complex and changing.
Brisbane’s homelessness support services are finding the issues driving people into homelessness are shifting from drug or alcohol abuse and mental health issues to an inability to afford rent or find work.
The result, Anglicare South-East Queensland executive director Karen Crouch said, was an increase in overcrowded homes as people tried to reduce the cost of living by sharing a place short term.
Ms Crouch said increasing rents and a lack of entry-level jobs were combining to make life increasingly challenging for young people and older women.
“In areas particularly around Brisbane like Redlands, Logan, Caboolture, we’re actually seeing more visible homeless people than we’ve seen before,” she said.
“When we once associated homelessness with drug and alcohol as key drivers, now really a lack of affordable rental and a lack of entry level jobs and unemployment are really big catalysts for homelessness, and particularly for youth.”
She said the overcrowding issue led to vulnerable people living in circumstances with people they might not otherwise choose to live with.
The AHURI report noted that 44 per cent of all homelessness was now attributed to people sharing overcrowded dwellings.
Rough sleepers accounted for only 7 per cent of homelessness nationally but had become an “urban phenomenon”, with nearly half of Australia’s rough sleepers staying in capital cities.
Couchsurfing and living in cars while using public amenities are also major issues as community and public housing gets left behind.
“The measure of a great society is that everyone rises together, and in Australia we’re still seeing that real gap between haves and have-nots,” Ms Crouch said.
“And that doesn’t create a great society.”
Not-for-profit community services group Micah Projects is also seeing a change in homelessness Brisbane.
Based in West End, the organisation’s chief executive Karyn Walsh said she had seen homelessness dispersing into the suburbs for some time.
Ms Walsh said more affordable rent was causing a shift in homelessness as gentrification in the inner suburbs continued to change the shape of the city.
“Being able to sustain housing on these incomes is impossible,” she said.
“Social housing is the only option, or in some way finding housing that can be subsidised.”
But the difference between affordable housing and social housing was another issue.
As the general rental market increased, the conversation has shifted away from the responsibility to build more community and social housing to the issue of affordable rents.
The result, Ms Walsh said, was that social housing was being left behind in the national conversation.
She said on top of building more social housing, it had to be carefully designed to support the people who needed it most: youth, young families and older women with limited work experience and higher vulnerability.
Ms Walsh said “people of any age” were coming through Micah’s doors, from young teenagers to people in their 80s.
Brisbane City Council Greens councillor Jonathan Sri (The Gabba) said he had seen the issue worsening in the inner-city suburbs throughout his ward.
West End and Woolloongabba in particular have seen a significant gentrification process drive out many residents.
“We’re definitely seeing a lot more people struggling to afford rising rents and in some cases becoming homeless,” Cr Sri said.
“What we often forget is that not everyone can afford the new high-rise apartments that are proliferating throughout the inner city.”
Cr Sri said his office dealt every week with residents of the inner-city suburbs that had become homeless due to the rising rent costs.
“The Australian Homelessness Monitor report suggests that as many as 10,000 people in Brisbane are now experiencing homelessness in one form or another,” he said.
“Really the solution is we need more public housing, and more public housing in inner-city areas.”
At Tuesday’s council meeting, lord mayor Adrian Schrinner noted the complexities of homelessness during a debate on the topic.
“Homelessness is a problem in Brisbane, and is a problem in any lage city and is something that we must continue … to work (on) across all levels of government,” Cr Schrinner said.
“There is no one person, there is no one government, there is no one agency which is going to on its own solve these problems, so working collaboratively together we can achieve positive things.”
Anglicare, meanwhile, is turning away on average five people a night because they cannot find them accommodation.
Ms Crouch said the “hidden face” of homelessness was the older women being left with nowhere to go.
“It is frightening to think that a lot of people are only one paycheck from that situation,” she said.
Lucy is the urban affairs reporter for the Brisbane Times, with a special interest in Brisbane City Council.