The number of people sleeping rough on Melbourne’s street has significantly increased over the past year, according to the annual StreetCount survey.
In most years since 2008, the City of Melbourne has co-ordinated the “point-in-time” survey, with volunteer observers taking to the inner city streets this year on Tuesday, June 3.
This year, 142 people were recorded – an increase of 40 per cent since the last count in 2012. Sixty per cent of these were observed in the CBD.
And, while the numbers across the municipality are up, the overall percentage of rough sleepers found in the CBD has fallen for the third year in a row. The report suggests that more and more rough sleepers are kipping down in East Melbourne.
Big Umbrella founder Justin Dickenson believes homeless numbers have increased only marginally in the CBD over the past two years. His charity operates food kitchens at Flinders St Station and dispenses 600 meals over three nights each week.
Mr Dickenson’s biggest frustration is the self-perpetuating nature of the homelessness problem. He says he sees the same old faces and there is very little structural capacity to break the cycle.
“We’ve managed to assist about six people to integrate back into main stream society,” he said. “But the system is like a revolving door.”
He said people being released from prison, in particular, mostly had no where to go and ended up back on the streets.
Travis Moloney has been in jail nine times since in the past 17 years. The 35-year-old celebrated a one-year anniversary of being heroin-free on July 22 and is determined to stay clean and out of jail.
Mr Moloney mostly manages to avoid sleeping rough because of the generosity of passers by who respond to his sign asking for a contribution to accommodation costs. But he says he has to start early in the day to save the $77 nightly motel fee.
Food, on the other hand, is readily available and, between hand-outs from people in the street and the regular food kitchens around the city, he says no-one goes hungry in Melbourne.
“I am constantly amazed by the generosity of people in Melbourne,” he said.
Mr Moloney said was classified as a low priority by service providers who were more concerned about women, young people and indigenous Australians.
The 2014 StreetCount survey found that, compared with the wider homeless population, rough sleepers were most likely to be male, single and Australian born.
Despite limitations with the survey, its authors say it if fair to assume that there is a group of at least 40 to 50 long-term homeless single men who sleep in and around the inner city.
In other findings, the report concluded:
- Around a third of the people counted sleep openly on the street and over a quarter in parks and gardens. Other people record sleeping in a wide variety of “other” locations including train stations, public toilets and car parks;
- Most people sleep in one place or move between two or three places over the period of a month. There is a smaller group of people who tend to move around between more places;
- Most (around three quarters) of the group are in touch with the service system, but mainly for “subsistence” services such as meals and emergency relief centres. This suggests that this group might use the service system for survival, but not as a “pathway” out homelessness;
- Most (around two thirds) are not on the public housing waiting list, and most that are, have been on the list for over two years; and
- StreetCount appears to record different individuals each year, and very few people are recorded in more than one count. StreetCount has recorded at least 572 different people over six years.