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Just do something about NT homelessness

  • 06 December 2019


The statistics provided by NT Shelter are chilling. The rate of homelessness in the Northern Territory is 12 times the national average. Six per cent of all Territorians are experiencing homelessness. Eighty-one per cent of homelessness in the NT is due to overcrowding. Twenty per cent of Aboriginal people in the NT are homeless. More than 16 per cent of Territorians under 16 are homeless. The NT has 13 times the national rate of people sleeping rough.

Homelessness is a burden, not just on the homeless person but on the wider community. There is an 'opportunity cost' implicit in homelessness. The concept of opportunity cost is the cost of doing nothing and letting things go on as they are. What would the whole community gain if say half the existing number of homeless people were employed and paying rent? The entire economy benefits by getting people housed and employed. By not addressing homelessness the whole economy and community suffers.

John Kennedy coached the Hawthorn Hawks AFL club from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. He was famous for his commitment to fitness and hardness at the ball — and his oratory. Perhaps his most famous contribution to the game was his comment at three quarter time of the 1975 Grand Final against the rampant North Melbourne Kangaroos, coached by Ron Barassi. When addressing players who hadn't performed well till to that point, he shouted: 'At least do something! Do! Don't think, don't hope, do! At least you can come off and say "I did this, I shepherded, I played on. At least I did something."'

It's not just 'long grassers' or 'river campers' — the Aboriginal people from remote communities camping 'rough' in Darwin and Alice Springs respectively. They are the visible marker of a deeply entrenched problem. 

Long grassers and river campers have a place they call home back in remote parts of the Territory but their homes are not liveable. The recent class action by the residents of community housing at Ltyentye Apurte/Santa Teresa, 80km south-east of Alice, demonstrates that.

The problem is under-resourcing across the Territory. Agencies like Yilli Reung and Tangentyere in Darwin and Alice Springs and the housing associations in remote communities are working at the coal face with energy and initiative. The NT government has committed $10 billion to addressing the problem. But ready solutions do not present themselves automatically.

The Northern Territory branch of the Community and Public