Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

No place like home – no home at all


For most of us, Homelessness Week is an exercise of the imagination. It invites relatively secure people to explore the experience of the homeless poor. Executives and professional people take part in sleep ins in halls, both experiencing what it is like to sleep rough for a night and to live without customary comforts.

This year, however, homelessness is not a condition of people unlike us, but threatens many friends with a life experience similar to our own and to that of our children. The cost of buying a house, of paying a mortgage and of renting a flat has risen sharply. It often exceeds people’s income. This is due partly to inflation and rising interest rates, partly to the limited stock of accommodation and the excess of demand over supply. As a result more people have become homeless. On the eve of Homelessness Week, a Homelessness Services report estimated that the demand made on them for accommodation had increased to 1,600 each month. Two thirds of those affected were women and children. Anecdotal evidence also includes stories of elderly people evicted from rental housing because they cannot meet rising costs, white collar workers sleeping in cars when moving to another city for work, and a homeless woman released from jail pleading successfully to be returned there.

Statistics and passing experience, however, do not catch the harsh, destructive reality of homelessness. To be homeless is to live with constant anxiety for your safety and for the security of the possessions that link you to your history and affections. It is to move constantly searching for shelter. It is for children constantly to change schools to the detriment of making friends and learning. It brings the extra cost of buying less nutritious food in the absence of a stove, exposure to heat and cold and vulnerability to physical and mental illness. It is to have to plan how to shower and wash your clothes. It entails the loss of a community of which you are part and a postal address to which government agencies can send mail. To be homeless is to live a shadow life. It is to be made unsocial and to see your human spirit being eroded.

A colder judgment of homelessness is to say that all human beings have the right to shelter, and that in a modern and wealthy society the State has the duty to provide that shelter for those who otherwise cannot find it. A decent society will demand of its governments that they make this gesture of solidarity with people who are disadvantaged. The present level of homelessness in many developed nations is intolerable and highlights the indecency of past neglect.

The cause of this neglect has long been evident. It lies in an economic ideology that has emphasised the need of individuals to cope for themselves, the right of individuals to seek and amass wealth without restriction, and the opportunity of governments to cut costs on social services and to farm them out to private enterprise for profit. Instead of expanding programs of public housing, governments sold off its stock to developers of private housing. At the same time their taxation policies enabled those with wealth to buy houses as investments, with the result that houses were no longer seen as shelter but as wealth that would grow as need grew. In Australia, as in other nations, the need did grow. And with it grew the massive inequality in wealth between those with houses and those without sure accommodation. 


'Those of us who live securely in our homes and shelter should look in the eye the people who sit homeless in our city streets and acknowledge that their condition is the dark side of our privilege.' 


The COVID epidemic and the vast increase in government debt required to meet the economic and personal effects of lockdowns have increased the need for investment in temporary and permanent accommodation, made it difficult for builders to secure the material and financial resources need to meet their commitments, and have limited the capacity of governments to fund the large programs needed. These shortfalls have increased the price of houses and of rentals and exacerbated the inequality that is the underlying cause of the problem.         

Governments have lacked the courage to address inequality by increasing the tax on wealth. To be fair, they have also had to consider the unintended consequences of bold policies designed to remedy past neglect at a time when more and more demands are made of them. Their inactivity, however, leaves us with prolonged homelessness as a human blight, as a social scandal, and as an indictment ofGovernments and their advisers for subscribing to a destructive economic ideology, and of us as a people for electing Governments of all political colours that neglected the common good in pandering to individual choice and to corporate stripping of the commons. 

The existence and extent of homelessness call on us as persons and as a society that we make it a priority to offer accommodation to those who lack it. It also requires us to recognise as our brothers and sisters people who are homeless. Those of us who live securely in our homes and shelter should look in the eye the people who sit homeless in our city streets and acknowledge that their condition is the dark side of our privilege. 




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Homeless person sleeping on a park bench. (Dean Purcell / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Homelessness Week, Housing, Housing Crisis, Cost of living, Rent



submit a comment

Existing comments

Homelessness is the issue which could destroy the Albanese Labor government at the next federal election. Whether the Coalition would do a better job on this is a moot point. As Andy points out, there are a number of factors responsible for this crisis. Do we have any politicians with the mettle to address this? If so, we need them now.

Edward Fido | 10 August 2023  

A valuable contribution to the current discourse surrounding this appalling blight on our community.
Homelessness is a rapidly progressing trauma now infecting many who would have never believed they could succumb to the economic malaise that underscores much of this crisis.
But while the aggregate cost is beginning to be afforded some attention - but few if any effective solutions - the recognition of the profound misery and despair, of the nightmare of facing each day as ‘homeless person’ is still ignored or at best glosssed over.
Our individual humanity is tortured by through the tacit acceptance of landlessness and homelessness; our communal welfare is decimated by the collective dismissal of shared obligations to all our brothers and sisters.
This dystopia, laid bare before us…..

Mark Towler | 10 August 2023  

"Those of us who live securely in our homes and shelter should look in the eye the people who sit homeless in our city streets and acknowledge that their condition is the dark side of our privilege. "

Yes, and no. Perhaps like many people who are comfortably housed, I'm always frightened that somehow I might end up like that. Those of us who didn't cause the problem, feel the problem in that indirect way.

The most obvious first step to take to reduce the 'crisis' is to halve the immigration rate and the number of foreign students coming in. Obviously we only make the problem worse by increasing demand for housing faster than we can create supply of housing.

It's the old case of 'follow the money' - there are people who benefit from rising property prices and cheap labour, and they are calling the shots.

Russell Hamilton | 10 August 2023  

Andrew, thank you for a thoughtful article about homelessness.

The problem has become a big issue for more and more people because of the pandemic, price gouging that has occurred on so many goods and services.

You are correct to point the finger at governments that have not done enough to provide cheap housing and for a long time have been selling off the public housing that was provided by more responsible past political leaders.

Instead, they have been giving billions to the large corporations including the fossil fuel producers and the mega wealthy or spending it on embedding us further into AUKUS and the US war machine.

It is plainly obvious that we need our current government to implement an affordable housing construction scheme.

In June this year, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) National Secretary Zach Smith has vowed to keep pushing the federal government to be more ambitious on building social housing. He recommended that $15 billion needs to be spent per annum for this purpose.

All who show compassion for and solidarity with the homeless and those facing homelessness because of their low incomes should be supporting the demand of the CFMEU.and putting pressure on our political leaders to get their priorities in order.

If the federal government can spend $368 billion of submarines that we don't need, surely it can spend $15 billion per year to provide housing for all and provide many more useful jobs.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 10 August 2023  

"Those of us who live securely in our homes and shelter should look in the eye the people who sit homeless in our city streets and acknowledge that their condition is the dark side of our privilege" So true.Thank you..

Margaret | 10 August 2023  

Thank you, Andrew.
In my 70+ years, I have never seen such a train wreck as we are witnessing with the level of homelessness in Australia today.
My family are very fortunate, as my wife, and I scrimped and saved over many years to pay off our mortgage prior to retirement a few years ago. I can remember the financial pain of the 1990's when Interest rates approached 19%! Of course, our loan was only around $100,00, not the millions it costs today to buy a reasonable home. My children are being hit with incredible demands on their income to meet their mortgages. Cost of living is many times what it was when we were their ages in the 1990's.
What really bugs me is the 'well heeled', using multiple properties to grow rich and avoid or minimize tax obligations by such means as negative gearing and trusts, which should have been abolished years ago. Bank profits are insane as are bonuses paid to their CEO's.
We live in a society vastly different to my childhood. Instead of helping out people doing it tough, we are encouraged through the insidious neo-liberal individualistic society we have become, to think only of 'number one'!
It would take a very brave political party to try and reverse this selfish trend in our supposedly 'egalitarian society' that we once were.

Gavin A. O'Brien | 10 August 2023  

Very confronting and challenging Australian article on homelessness. I also think of the 270 million displaced people worldwide, all essentially homeless.
The shadow side of our privilege, and a call to action!!

Dr. Stephen Moss | 11 August 2023  

Similar Articles

The great AI misdirection

  • David James
  • 17 August 2023

In a world where words wield power, 'Artificial Intelligence' is a semantic contradiction. As tech leaders sound alarms about AI's potential threats, the reality remains: AI scans data but can't replicate human thought or emotion. Are we, through misleading language, surrendering our humanity to machines?


No vote, no voice

  • Daniel Gregory
  • 10 August 2023

The upcoming Voice referendum in Australia will be a defining moment for the nation. However, Australians living overseas indefinitely are unable to participate, raising questions about the true boundaries of democratic participation.