Homelessness needs to be addressed if governments really want to Close the Gap by 2030, according to Public Health Association of Australia CEO Michael Moore.
A report published today in the Medical Journal of Australia illustrates the impact of homelessness on Aboriginal people who frequently presented at hospital.
The case-control study examined presentations for serious issues at the Emergency Department of the Katherine Hospital in the Northern Territory.
“These shocking statistics illustrate that homelessness is a key social determinants of health which is made more complicated by the remoteness of the area, chronic disease and misuse of alcohol,” says Moore.
“However, the paper also illustrates that the most fundamental health issue is housing.
“This is not just about Katherine Hospital; the issue needs to be attacked seriously across the NT and all of Australia for a chance to improve the living standards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” he says.
“Official figures suggest that more than 7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are homeless in the NT, a rate that is about 15 times more than the national average.
“However, anecdotal evidence suggests that even these appalling figures are a significant under-estimate,” he says
The ABC Without a Home Fact File, released in 2011, shows more than half of homeless Indigenous Australians are located in the NT and 70% in remote or very rural areas. The Fact File also shows homeless services only accommodated for 3.7% of all homeless people in the NT.
“The report in the MJA, by Simon Quilty and others, provides solid evidence which means the impact of homelessness on health can’t be put on the back burner anymore, nor dismissed with terms such as ‘long-grassers’,” says Moore.
“To target the homeless rates and improve indigenous health, a sophisticated framework needs to be put in place to address the specific needs of the rural and remote areas especially in the NT.
“We need to be inclusive and think about how new living spaces can be implemented and used,” says Moore.
“Reducing the homelessness rate is a driving factor to closing the gap. If the living standards of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be improved, other issues including alcohol and imprisonment rates will decrease.
“Rather than draconian laws like mandatory detention, priority ought to be given to housing. Or will it take a Royal Commission before we find a way to house our people?
“Katherine Hospital, for its part, has instituted targeted interventions. However, to really make a difference and improve public health it is important to focus on all factors contributing to poor health and wellbeing. Homelessness is fundamental.
“This generation of Australians has the opportunity and responsibility to close the health gap which has affected our nation for too long.”