Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Homelessness in Australia: Women in Need?

I noticed an article on the ABC web site this morning, “Homeless women, young people most in need”, which said:

Almost 230,000 Australians used a homeless service in the past year and 99,000 of those were children or young people under 24, a report has found.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report found an average of 19,000 people slept in a government-supported accommodation each night during the 2011-12 financial year.

The Institute's Geoff Neideck says more women than men needed help to find shelter.

"Overall, we see that that main cause is in relation to domestic and family violence," he said.

The first thing that struck me was that throughout the entire article, women were only referenced twice; once in the title, and once in this indirect quote of Neideck (I'd be interested to know what he actually said). The next thing to note is that the only thing supporting the indirect quote is a statement about “domestic and family violence” which doesn't mention women at all ­– in other words, an implicit assumption that all or most victims of domestic violence are women, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary (H/T Dalrock).

The report by the AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) referenced by the article can be found here, but there are some significant problems with their data collection. They collect this data from agencies which work with vulnerable groups, and so any bias in the client demographics of these agencies will be reflected in the data. In particular, since most of the some 1500 agencies referred to are exclusively working with female clients, and the majority of funding goes towards these agencies, it's not surprising that men would be under-represented.

Since the AIHW reflects the number of people being helped but not the number of people needing help, I decided to look up the latest census data instead. Released just over a month ago, the government's official estimates of the number of homeless people tell a different story.

Firstly, over 56% of homeless persons are men, and men comprise the majority of homeless persons for every single age group. However, those numbers include people who live in crowded dwellings and temporary accommodation, not just people living “on the street”. Perhaps the situation changes if we look at the unequivocally homeless?

Okay, so it gets worse – men comprise 68% of those most in need of housing support. And before anyone says “but men don't need the same level of protection”, just check the violent crime statistics where you will find that men are significant majority of victims of violent crimes for all age cohorts, so any innate protection they have is obviously not enough to counteract this.

We've already seen that the AIHW admit that most services go to women. The Australian Bureau of Statistics data also shows this:

There are a couple of age groups where it's close, but a majority (51%) of the support goes to women despite men being such a majority of the homeless (56-68%). If Neideck as quoted thinks this is because women are more in need than men, he should look more closely at the data. It's not that we shouldn't be helping women – the issue is that we are not doing enough to help men, and the media still insists on focussing solely on how homelessness impacts women in spite of evidence that men are much more likely to be homeless.

The ABC article title claimed “homeless women, young people most in need.” I'll let the reader examine this last pie chart to help assess the validity of that statement.

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