A family of nine
living in one room
is homeless

Homelessness is different, here

Homelessness in the Northern Territory is unlike anywhere else. In some ways it is harder to see because, as Neil Willmet (CEO of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Queensland) said at our 2023 conference:

Overcrowding is homelessness.

Around Australia, 11% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in crowded housing. More than half (56%) of Aboriginal Territorians do. (See the Productivity Commission dashboard figures for progress toward housing targets.)

Severely overcrowded housing is just one manifestation of homelessness in the Territory. Another is the phenomenon of ‘long grassers’: Aboriginal people living in green areas of Darwin. Perhaps they came for family or health reasons and then became stuck, with no money to return. One solution is to practice a longstanding cultural tradition and camp outdoors. It might be consistent with culture; but this is also, unequivocally, homelessness. (For a better understanding of long grassers, see this Yolngu-led research paper, or in the media, this story or this one.)

How bad is it?

According to the national census, between 2016 and 2021, the homelessness rate among Aboriginal Territorians dropped by 6.1%. Per capita the NT has way more homeless people than anywhere else in Australia – and almost all homeless people here are Aboriginal. So it’s good to know that homelessness has declined a little. But among people over 55 years old, homelessness grew by 13.4%.

What should we do?

Homelessness is a sign of a broken housing system and clearly, the system fails Aboriginal Territorians more than anyone else in Australia. A market-based approach to housing will never fix homelessness. Of course, homeless people need services to support them, but ultimately we need to transform the system so that Aboriginal people have the kind of home they want.

A good first step for AHNT is to help raise awareness and understanding of homelessness. In 2024 the Council to Homeless PersonsParity magazine will focus for the first time on the Northern Territory. AHNT is supporting that issue by sharing the call for papers and encouraging contributions.

Read more about homelessness

Image credit: Letter from 1964 recommending Mr Limerick Jangala and his family be allocated a Housing Commission home. National Archives of Australia, E155, 1958/27, p33

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