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Homelessness and housing stress among police detainees

Media release

12 February 2015

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) today released a paper which provides a much needed analysis of homelessness and housing stress among police detainees.

“The study gives new insight into challenges posed by this offender subset of Australia’s extensive 105,000 person homeless population,” author Dr Jason Payne said.

The study found that one in five of the detainee population are homeless or experiencing some form of housing stress.

In an earlier study in 2008, the AIC reported that almost one in ten detainees interviewed between 1999 and 2006 were self-identified as living on the street with no fixed address

The latest study uses self-reported data from 947 adult police detainees who were interviewed in 2011 as part of the AIC’s Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program. The interviews took place within 48 hours of their arrest in watch-houses across Australia.

Findings include:

  • almost half of detainees lived most of the time in a property that they owned/rented;
  • one third of detainees lived most of the time in someone else’s property and considered it to be a permanent place of residence;
  • 13 percent of detainees lived most of the time in someone else’s property and considered it a temporary arrangement;
  • 5 percent of detainees lived in “other” accommodation; and
  • 4 percent of detainees reported living on the street

The results reflect 22% of the detainees being under housing stress or homeless.

The study found while 22 percent of detainees lived for most of the time either on the street or in temporary accommodation, a further 12 percent of those with permanent accommodation had temporarily lived elsewhere for at least one of the past 30 days.

In the specific case of living on the street with no fixed address, the proportion doubled from four percent (those who did so for most of the time) to eight percent when including those who did so for at least one night in the past 30 days.

Twenty-five percent of respondents cited Family or relationship breakdowns as the reason for having recently lived in a temporary location, followed by difficult financial circumstances/job loss (19%), having a drug problem (15%), and being evicted from property (12%).

Within the homeless group, two in every three homeless detainees (60%) had been drinking alcohol in the 48 hours prior to their arrest. As with drug use, this was significantly higher than the non-homeless detainee population (41%).

“Homeless detainees reported comparatively high rates of illicit drug and alcohol use, along with higher contact with the police and the criminal justice system. When you combine these factors, it requires an adequate and planned response to both ¬†substance use and housing stress, rather than seeking to address each issue in isolation,” Dr Payne said.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) using the 2011 Australian Census has estimated that on any given night in 2011, approximately 105,000 Australians were homeless. The full study can be found at Homelessness and housing stress among police detainees: Results from the DUMA program

For comment: Colin Campbell 02 6260 9244 or 0418 159 525