(Australian Associated Press)
Homelessness means understanding “the absolute joy of dry socks in winter”, says a mother-of-three now living in Victorian crisis accommodation.
Jennifer Donnelly’s life spiralled out of control in 2014 after she was sexually abused by her male partner before turning to methamphetamines to ease the pain and finding herself one of Australia’s 116,000-plus people with no place to call home.
The 40-year-old struggled with a lack of justice, fell into another bad relationship and again turned to drugs within two years.
“You know the absolute joy of dry socks in winter. We have to travel up to one-and-a-half hours sometimes to get meals,” the mother-of-three said in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“I could sleep legally outside of the city which is not safe, but if I want breakfast I have to travel into the city. I had to make a choice if I was getting fined for being homeless or travelling without a Myki – that means $300 for breakfast.”
She now plays soccer, volunteers in the kitchen at a centre for homeless people in North Melbourne and studies law at Swinburne University, all while living in crisis accommodation in Melbourne.
On Census night in 2016 more than 116,000 homeless people were counted as homeless in Australia.
In the five years from 2011 to 2016 homelessness in Australia leapt 13.7 per cent, according to data from the 2016 Census of Population and Housing.
This works out at a rate of 4.6 people homeless per 100,000, taking into account population growth, the data shows.
Men aged 20-30 made up a quarter of homeless people in Australia, while women aged 65 and over also had higher instances of homelessness.
ABS population and social statistics division general manager Paul Jeffs said there had been “quite significant changes in that space”.
Dr Jeffs said rough sleepers, people living in supported accommodation and those in overcrowded homes were among the list of homeless.
Homelessness Australia chairwoman Jenny Smith said homelessness services need help to tackle the increased demand, with 250 Australians turned away from its services across Australia daily.
“Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice, it reflects a systems failure, and most critically, a shortage of affordable housing,” she said.
Victoria had an 11 per cent rise in homelessness from 23,306 to 24,817 people.
VincentCare Victoria chief executive John Blewonski and Ms Smith called on the federal government to release a housing and homelessness plan to tackle the crisis.
It is the first time the ABS has released homelessness Census data.