Categories of Indigenous homeless people and good practice responses to their needs

Categories of Indigenous homeless people and good practice responses to their needs Report

  • Author(s): Paul Memmott, Stephen Long, Catherine Chambers, Frederick Spring
  • Published: 2004
  • Publisher: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute

Abstract: This research is concerned with the phenomenon of Indigenous homelessness in Australia. A reading of the homelessness literature clearly demonstrates the difficulties of conceptualising both non-Indigenous 'homelessness' and Indigenous 'homelessness' (Memmott et al 2003). The most visible Indigenous ‘homeless’ people are small groups who live in public places, socialising, sheltering, drinking, arguing and fighting in public. This occurs despite the existence a range of Indigenous housing options and the advent of formal Town Camps in many regional centres throughout the late 20th century (especially post 1970). Although these people are often categorised as 'homeless', a number see themselves as being both 'placed' and 'homed', and prefer instead to refer to themselves with such labels as 'parkies', 'goomies', 'long grassers', ‘ditchies’ or 'river campers'. They are public place dwellers who identify with particular public or semi-public places as their ‘home’ environment, usually conforming to a 'beat' of such places where they camp and socialise. In certain contexts the current authors believe 'public place dwelling' should be the nomenclature preferred over such words as 'homeless' or 'itinerant', because the latter terms have specific, and sometimes narrowly construed, meanings that are not always helpful in analysis and strategic thinking. Mainstream concepts of homelessness do not serve Indigenous people well. The research found that for many Indigenous homeless people, finding accommodation is not necessarily their most crucial support need. Indigenous homelessness can be redefined as losing one’s sense of control over, or legitimacy in, the place where one lives. The research identified three broad categories of Indigenous homelessness: public place dwellers; those at risk of homelessness; and spiritually homeless people. Those designing policies or programs for Indigenous homeless people may need to re-think or change their concepts of homeless in order to adequately understand and respond to the needs of this group of people. Indeed, services required by Indigenous people who are regarded as homeless may not necessarily be concerned with housing or accommodation issues. The project aimed to research the phenomenon of small groups of Indigenous people living in public settings, despite in many cases the advent of formal Town Camps and a range of urban Indigenous housing options having been established in many regional centres throughout the late 20th century (esp. post 1970). Although these people are often categorised as homeless, a reading of the literature clearly demonstrates the difficulties of conceptualising either mainstream homelessness or Indigenous homelessness. A number of Indigenous itinerant people see themselves as being both placed and homed, and prefer instead to refer to themselves with such labels as parkies, goomies, long grassers, river campers, etc. Indigenous homeless people can be further characterised as people who do not pay for accommodation, have a visible profile (socialise, shelter, drink, argue and fight in public), have low incomes of which a substantial part is often spent on alcohol, have generally few possessions, minimal clothes and bedding, and usually conform to a beat of camping and socialising places in public or semi-public areas. State and Local government, Indigenous, and charitable groups in most capital cities and regional centres of Australia are facing the problem of responding to Indigenous people residing in public and semi-public places, often accompanied by anti-social behaviour, substance abuse, poor health and short life expectancy. This is becoming an increasing and complex social problem. Yet there is very little published literature on the subject, neither profiling these people nor providing strategies in response to their needs. Nevertheless many local groups have attempted to respond with a range of strategies which are often described in unpublished (and often confidential) documents.

Cite this document

Suggested Citation
Paul Memmott, Stephen Long, Catherine Chambers, Frederick Spring, 2004, Categories of Indigenous homeless people and good practice responses to their needs, Report, viewed 10 August 2022, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=4368.

Endnote Mendeley Zotero Export Google Scholar

Share this page

Search again