Call for action as census paints “catastrophic” picture of First Nations housing and homelessness in Victoria

First Nations homelessness in Victoria has grown more than 40 per cent in the past five years according to the latest census data, signalling a state of emergency and reinforcing the grave need for a First Nations-focused homelessness system in the state.  


Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released Estimating Homelessness, the 2021 census of population and housing data highlighting again the structural and systemic inequalities First Nations people experience in the housing system.


“While census data will never capture the full extent of First Nations homelessness, these tip-of-the-iceberg figures show us how decades of housing inaction in Victoria cost First Nations people,” Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Forum (AHHF) Chair and Aboriginal Housing Victoria CEO Darren Smith said.  


On census night in Victoria, 1109 First Nations Victorians identified as homeless, up from 783 in 2016.  


As part of the State Government’s COVID-19 homelessness pandemic response, Victorians who were sleeping rough were accommodated in hotels and motels. This explains the 42 per cent drop in the number of First Nations people sleeping rough we see in this data.


What this demonstrates is that with adequate funding we can house the most vulnerable - unfortunately once the lockdowns ended, so did the extra funding.    


Across the nation, three in five First Nations people were living in a “severely” overcrowded dwelling, one in five were in crisis accommodation, and one in 10 were living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out. 


“No more empty promises or vague targets – we need an initial pledge to build a minimum of 300 houses a year in Victoria for First Nations people, because these census figures show us how catastrophic inaction is,” Mr Smith said.


“These findings demonstrate that current housing responses are fragmented, insufficient and shortsighted, and all Governments should implement the AHHF’s Blueprint for a First Nations-specific homelessness system. 


“We need First Nations-owned housing stock and we needed it yesterday. A lack of safe and secure housing further entrenches the inequalities faced by First Nations people in Victoria in the long term.


“Further, the Federal Government’s Housing Australia Future Fund won’t address the breadth of First Nations housing needs unless 10 per cent of new dwellings are specifically provided for First Nations peoples in urban, regional and remote areas.”