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The Way Home: Forging a Path to Ending First Nations Homelessness in Australia.


Mitch Stanford



As I write this piece, in the wake of the referendum vote, I find myself grappling with a complex and conflicting range of emotions. On one hand, the palpable sense of hope and optimism that was present, a belief in the potential for positive change and progress, a fairer and just Australia that we could feel pride in helping to cultivate. The referendum represented an opportunity for our society to take another step towards address critical issues, rectify injustices, and move toward a more inclusive future. Alas, with it’s failing, it is a time to recognise that much work is still to be done and how important it is to seek knowledge, to listen and to learn from First Nations Australians so that we may still progress toward real reconciliation.


In August, I had the opportunity to attend the "Ending First Nations Homelessness" forum hosted by Homelessness Australia. This event provided a crucial platform to discuss and address the specific challenges faced by Indigenous communities regarding homelessness. The forum facilitated insightful discussions, strategies, and perspectives to create meaningful solutions and support systems tailored to the needs of First Nations peoples in Australia. This was a profoundly enlightening experience and served as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for collaborative action.


Some of the speakers in attendance included The Hon Julie Collins MP, Minister for Homelessness, June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner & Ivan Simon, CEO, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association.


The forum opened with a moving Welcome to Country delivered by Ngunnawal elder, Selina Walker.

As I listened to these dedicated advocates, it became clear that this forum and subsequent strategies for aiding First Nations Australians experiencing homelessness would become pivotal in our nation's ongoing journey towards reconciliation and social justice.


This event not only shed light on the systemic challenges facing First Nations Australians but also highlighted the remarkable resilience, strength, and wisdom of First Nations cultures. It reinforced the significance of community-driven solutions and emphasized the importance of acknowledging historical injustices. This forum served as a call to action, inspiring attendees to work together to create a more equitable future and ultimately put an end to First Nations homelessness.


Despite a decade of effort, the statistics on homelessness in Australia have shown a disheartening trend. The last census results, up to 2021, reveal that the rate of people experiencing homelessness has maintained a troubling stability. Approximately 122,000 individuals find themselves grappling with homelessness, a statistic that demands our immediate attention and commitment to change. This figure serves as a sobering reminder of the persistent issue of homelessness in our nation.


“It's vital to emphasize that these numbers are not just statistics; as these numbers are made up of people. Of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and families, and we must continue to humanize these numbers so that we remind ourselves of the true cost and fundamental necessity of housing and security.”


I learned a great deal from this session, such as on the night of the 2021 census approximately one in five people experiencing homelessness identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. These statistics emphasize the crucial role of government and NGO’s in continuing to focus on ending First Nations homelessness.


An additional point of learning that more of us should understand is the concept of Country and that it holds profound significance for Indigenous Australians, encompassing more than just the physical land. It embodies a spiritual, cultural, and ancestral connection that defines their identity and existence. Country is interwoven with stories, traditions, knowledge, and spirituality passed down through generations, forming the core of Indigenous culture. It's a source of belonging, providing a deep sense of purpose and connection to both the land and the community. The land itself is central to Indigenous practices, ceremonies, and the preservation of heritage. Respect for Country is integral, representing a holistic relationship that sustains cultural, social, and emotional well-being, making it an indispensable part of Indigenous Australians' lives.


As the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) states, an estimated 74 percent of First Nations Australians aged 18 and over recognize their own homelands or traditional country as an area of land with significant ancestral and cultural links and that a disconnect from country can negatively affect First Nations Australians, this is especially exacerbated by those experiencing housing insecurity.


According to Homelessness Australia’s submission to the National Housing and Homelessness plan, there have been key issues identified that must be addressed as a matter of urgency as well as some broader targets to be reached that will increase the proportion of First Nations Australians with access to safe a secure housing. Some of these issues identified include:


  • Identifying and addressing unmet housing needs in major cities, regional and remote areas.

  • Tackling discrimination in the in rental market.

  • Guaranteeing a proportion of all new social housing is for First Nations households and the community-controlled sector.

  • Planning to manage the impact of rising sea levels or increases in hot days that threaten the liveability of people’s traditional lands.


This is part of building on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Sector Strengthening Plan which aims to:

  1. Close the gap between the number and proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people who are homeless by 2040.

  2. Close the gap between the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and non-Indigenous children and young peoples who are homeless.

  3. Close the gap between the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in out-of-home care by 2030.

  4. Close the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and non-Indigenous young people leaving out of home care and exiting into homelessness.


The narrative and the statistics shared here underscore the multifaceted nature of addressing First Nations homelessness in Australia. The profound significance of Country to Indigenous Australians is deeply interwoven with the ongoing challenges and struggles experienced by communities, particularly regarding housing insecurity. The Ending First Nations Homelessness forum painted a powerful picture of hope, dedication, and urgency, highlighting a significance that goes beyond discussions. The shared statistics reveal a stark reality, demanding immediate attention and a committed effort toward change. The emphasized need for tailored housing solutions, acknowledging the cultural and ancestral significance of Country, and the call to address discrimination and climate threats on Indigenous lands all contribute to a comprehensive roadmap toward ending First Nations homelessness. This illustrates the importance of shared responsibility, urgent action, and the collective pursuit of a fair, just, and inclusive Australia for all its inhabitants. The challenge remains to transform these discussions into tangible, impactful change to ensure a future where the concept of Country is interlaced with security, dignity, and respect for all Indigenous Australians.


For more information, please check out Homelessness Australia’s website here: https://homelessnessaustralia.org.au/


You can also read the submission to the National Housing and Homelessness Plan here:

https://homelessnessaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/National-Housing-and-Homelessness-Plan-Submission-9.pdf

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