When most people picture a homeless person, they’re thinking of a rough sleeper. In reality, most homeless people are hidden from sight, living in cars or "couch surfing", struggling each night, The Advertiser reports.
While there are thousands of homeless people in South Australia, rough sleepers probably only number in the hundreds, maybe less. They slip through the cracks in our systems. They don’t necessarily have contact with the support services who keep statistics.
And they are often treated without sympathy by shopkeepers who want them off their stoops, by people who don’t want to face a beggar, and by authorities who would prefer they didn’t clutter up the city.
But most of them have nowhere to go. Many are disabled, plenty have mental health issues. Getting into the private rental market is out of reach, public housing is scarce.
A recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found there is a complex set of reasons why people end up without a safe home. But top of the list is simply not being able to get a proper house.
Alice Clarke from Shelter SA told The Advertiser that South Australia has the highest proportion of returning clients – that means people are getting housed, but for various reasons are unable to stay there.
“It’s got a lot to do with affordability in the private rental market, the decrease in numbers of public housing and we can see that we’re actually providing far fewer nights of accommodation to clients,” she said.
Dr Clark says the rough sleepers are five per cent – “at the most” – of those experiencing homelessness. But they’re the visible part, and arguably more at risk.
The SA Council of Social Service says there are very few options once people are sleeping rough.
“What most casual observers would say is that there’s been an increase in the numbers of people sleeping on our streets,” SACOSS chief executive officer Ross Womersley said.
“In part it’s because there has been an increase in those numbers and we haven’t yet found a good way to ensure that people exit homelessness as quickly as possible.
“And some of those people are making very active decisions to stay where they are because they feel like it might be where they’re safest."