It’s no secret that homelessness is a significant problem in Australia. Statistics show that there was a 30% increase in homelessness in Australia compared to the previous decade1. Ex-prisoners are also an overrepresented group in the homeless population.
Major Factors that Contribute to Homelessness
Being released from prison should offer people a fresh new start to their lives, however that is often not the case. Imprisonment and negative records before incarceration often adversely affect someone's chances of finding accommodation after release.
Applying for employment also has the same problem. Many employers are less likely to hire people who have been through the judicial system and served time. Consequently, these people struggle with only having minimal financial resources to provide for themselves and their families.
In several cases explored, convicted persons typically had a poor rental history before being imprisoned. This has been shown to significantly impact the potential for someone to secure housing, as they are often overlooked for applicants without a criminal history.
Every Experience is Different
Finding affordable, secure, and safe housing is a significant challenge for prisoners, especially in the months after release. This is not the only factor to contribute though, as homelessness can be influenced by several elements including gender, literacy, disability, and race. For example, formerly incarcerated women tend to experience homelessness, depression, and isolation in numbers far greater than males.
A 2003 study2 also showed
- 20% of NSW prisoners and 12% in Victoria were homeless (literally without shelter) prior to imprisonment.
- 16% expected to be homeless or did not know where they were going post-release.
- 73% in NSW, 58% in Vic were given no information on accommodation or support pre-release.
- 35% had been employed prior to incarceration
- 76% did not expect to or did not know whether they would be employed post-release.
How Do Former Prisoners Deal with Homelessness?
Research has found that former prisoners tend to be at greatest risk of homeless around six months after release. They are often able to rely on families and friends upon discharge, where they are supported. These first six months are often referred to as the "honeymoon" period, where ex-prisoners can enjoy freedom after release from prison.
It is after these first few months that housing arrangements start to break down. Families and friends may have limited resources, and they cannot provide the level of support required for any extended period. Unfortunately, this often forces people to begin couch surfing, applying for boarding houses or depending on shelters.
The Australian Government is drafting several proposals to address homelessness in the country and to offer more affordable housing opportunities. The intent being to provide additional housing that is accessible to people dealing with housing stress, including those who are homeless and formerly imprisoned. They should also not be discriminated against and offered the same opportunity to access emergency and secure housing.
In addition, funding is proposed to be extended to the families of ex-prisoners as well as implementing additional support programs involved in housing arrangements.
A lack of effective pre and post-release programs for released prisoners is a major contributing factor to their homelessness. Officials have proposed better programs to teach these people proactive methods to work their way out in the community, however this does not address the immediate issue facing those who are sleeping on the streets tonight.
How You Can Help?
These solutions may take time, but they promise improved support in the future. In the meantime, there are ways we can help the homeless community. Backpack Bed for Homeless provides life-saving Backpack Beds - lightweight backpacks that transform into a weather-proof bed with a mattress to help those people on our streets tonight.
- ABS 2016 vs ABS 2011 statistics.
- AHURI 2003 (https://.ahuri.edu.au%2F__data%2Fassets%2Fpdf_file%2F0005%2F2210%2FAHURI_Final_Report_No46_Ex_prisoners_and_accomodation.pdf&usg=AOvVaw3Hamc31148ziUgZvcli70C)
- Homelessness NSW 2006 (https://bit.ly/36KMOY4)
- Journal of Quantitative Criminology 2019 (https://bit.ly/2UPDnB3)