Potential health effects of increasing homelessness

Morgan Liotta

16/03/2018 11:32:15 AM

Australia’s homeless population has increased by almost 5% in the last five years, with 50 out of every 10,000 people experiencing homelessness, new research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed.

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Homelessness has been found to contribute to a number of health risk factors, including mental health issues, trauma and substance abuse. Image: Tony McDonough

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Census of population and housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016 estimates that more than 116,000 people were experiencing homelessness in Australia. This includes 51,088 people who are living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings, which are defined as lodgings that require four or more extra bedrooms to accommodate those who typically reside there.
The ABS report found that recent migrants to Australia made up 15% of the estimated homeless population, with close to 75% of this group considered to be living in severely crowded dwellings. In addition, more than two-thirds of the 23,437 of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experiencing homelessness were found to be living in severely crowded dwellings.
Overcrowded living environments have been found to lead to a number of negative health outcomes, such as chronic ear infections, eye infections, skin conditions, gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, and exacerbation of family violence and mental health issues.
Recent research has also found homelessness or the risk of homelessness to be potential risk factors for child maltreatment, along with parental mental health issues, trauma or substance abuse.
Health outcomes for young people have also been shown to be strongly influenced by various social and economic factors, including homelessness, with evidence showing that homelessness is increasing in the demographic of younger people in Australia.

‘One quarter of all people experiencing homelessness in 2016 was aged between 20 and 30 years,’ ABS General Manager of Population and Social Statistics Dr Paul Jelfs said.

With homelessness rates on the rise in Australia, GPs and other healthcare professionals are providing more services to support homeless people, including advice on mental health and drug and/or alcohol issues.

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