Dignity is a human right

Where Do Homeless People Sleep?


Homelessness is a growing social concern all over Australia. With more than 122,500 Australians being homeless on Census night 2021, you can only imagine how serious this problem is.

There are no homelessness definitions that are internationally agreed upon. Thus, it’s challenging to compare the level of homelessness across countries.

Most people experiencing homelessness for a long period of time in Australia are usually found in the big cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth.

The rate of homelessness in Australia was 45 out of every 10,000 people in 2006, 48 people in 2011, and is currently at 50 people (depending on the population density.)

Homelessness is more than not just having access to safe shelter

It may also include a lack of a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety and the ability to control your living space.

  1. When people don’t have conventional accommodation:
    • Sleeping on the streets
    • Improvised and make-shift dwellings
    • Sleeping in their car
  2. When people are forced to move from one temporary shelter to another:
    • Emergency accommodation, crisis accommodation and refuges.
    • Couch surfing – staying in the home of a friend or relative.
  3. When people live in accommodation that falls below minimum standards:
    • Boarding house
    • Caravan park or cheap motel
    • Household that is severely overcrowded.

But the question is, where do the homeless sleep?

People Sleeping Outside

People sleeping on the street or sleeping rough are the most visible homeless people.

Sometimes people are living on the street as there are no other options available to them (e.g. crisis accommodation is full) or other problems (such as mental health or PTSD) make it difficult for them to access services.

These people do not always have a permanent spot to sleep. They often are forced to find cardboard and other discarded items to sleep on. This greatly impacts their dignity, quality of sleep and health.

In plain sight: for safety reasons some homeless people choose to be very visible and sleep in plain sight in our major cities.

Hidden from view: other people try to hide away to keep away from others also for safety reasons. Violence and keeping belongings safe are big issues for people sleeping on the street.

Don’t sleep / day sleep / walk around: people who don’t feel safe at night (especially women) will keep active at night and sleep during the day.

Parks / gardens: another common place where homeless people sleep are in the parks and gardens in our cities.

Abandoned Buildings / alleyways / doorways / verandas: People sleep in abandoned buildings to try and have a longer term place to stay - especially during winter. With thick walls and a temporary roof over their head.

Cars/Vans: Some people sleep and live inside their cars. Over time this is usually very bad for their backs. Sometimes the vehicle eventually becomes unregistered, unroadworthy, gets numerous parking fines or gets towed.

Near waterways / beach: to have access to water some people sleep near waterways. This often leads to being bitten by insects such as mosquitos and midges, which then leads to itching and skin infections.

Make-Shift Dwellings: Some people find a hidden spot to make an improvised dwelling. We have seen these hiding - even in the middle of major Australian cities hidden between buildings. They are also often on our cities fringes in bush land and other hidden areas.

Under Bridges: Sleeping under bridges is another spot where people can be hidden from view. We have seen bridges in our major cities where people could even make fires for warmth, yet no one knows they are there.

Train Carriages / bus shelters: Some homeless Australians find comfort inside empty train carriages which are heated during winter and provide protection from the elements.

Shopping Centres: are another area where homeless people sometimes live are shopping centres. Using the facilities during the day and sleeping behind the buildings at night.

Sheds / garages: people sometimes sleep in alternative locations such as sheds and garages, often provided by family and friends. These are usually safer and allow people to keep their belongings safe, but are not suitable accommodation.

Other forms of Homelessness

Crisis / Temporary Accommodation: 18% of the homeless people in Australia sleep in supported accommodation for the homeless. Unfortunately, not all homeless people can be accommodated and have to find other places to stay when these shelters are full.

In 2018–19 there were an average of 253 requests for accommodation that were not met across Australia every day.  This was a total of 92,300 unassisted accommodation requests. This was an increase of 6,200 more unmet requests than the year before.

Couch Surfing: 15% of Australia’s homeless population stay with their family and friends – often on the couch or lounge room floors.

Boarding Houses: Affordable boarding houses are available to those who do not have their own homes. Unfortunately, these dwellings are usually not safe and secure with many people sharing facilities.

Other temporary lodgings: Some homeless people find themselves living in cheap motels and caravan parks. They make up about 1% of the homeless population. Sometimes this is funded by vouchers provided by homeless services.

Severely overcrowded dwellings: People living in severely overcrowded dwellings make up about 44% of the total homeless population in Australia. These people cannot afford to pay rent so they live with other people – sometimes multiple families are sharing one home.

These are just some places where homeless people sleep. Unfortunately, safety and security are a privilege many of them cannot afford.

Backpack Bed for Homeless

Backpack Bed for Homeless is a national Australian charity that provides life saving Backpack Beds to street sleeping homeless people without shelter.  The Backpack Bed is a lightweight portable waterproof bed that rolls into a backpack.  Backpack Beds improve dignity, sleep, health, warmth, comfort and safety.  Please consider a tax deductible donation.

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