May 31, 2005 | Graham

Queensland Government spends $50M to make homelessness worse

It’s good news for the homeless and their advocates, but bad news for homelessness statistics, making it even better news for the advocates.
According to The Courier Mail the Queensland Government plans to spend $50 million upgrading “run-down hostels” and building “extra boarding houses”.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows 105,000 people to be homeless, statistics which are regularly trotted out by homelessness advocates to prove that Australia has a crisis that must be fixed. Closer examination of the statistics shows that if you live in a boarding house or hostel you are classed as homeless.
So, by maintaining and extending the stock of boarding houses and hostels, the Queensland Government will actually be increasing the number of homeless, as measured by the bureau, leading to increasing demands by advocates that even more money be spent to fix the “problem”.
Physicists (who generally don’t understand the mechanics of “rent seeking”) tell us there is no such thing as the perpetual motion machine. More fool they. In this instance we appear to have the breeder reactor of perpetual motion!

Posted by Graham at 9:52 am | Comments (8) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I don’t know that you can necessarily draw the inference that because hostels and boarding houses are being maintained and/or improved, the problem of homelessness is getting worse.
    Perhaps it’s worthwhile considering grading homelessness on some sort of scale. Clearly people who live in boarding houses and or hostels are “less homeless” than those who live on the streets.

    Comment by Guy — June 1, 2005 @ 9:52 am

  2. Guy , the point of the post is that the ABS statistics are misleadingly labelled, and are misused by housing advocates. I don’t have a problem with the state government refurbishing and extending the stock of boarding houses and hostels, but I do have a problem with the fact that activists are going to come along and use the increase in this stock as it is translated into statistics to beat-up the issue even further.

    Comment by Graham Young — June 1, 2005 @ 11:14 am

  3. FYI Guy, there are actually stats that differentiate between those who have a roof over their heads and those who don’t – the latter being known as the number of people “sleeping rough”.
    IMHO it is quite reasonable to count people who are living in boarding houses and hostels as homeless. These are not generally long-term and certainly not permanent homes. Any extension in the number of boarding houses and hostels is presumably designed to reduce the number of people sleeping rough and/or at overcrowded refuges. Therefore, unless their existence encourages people to leave their “home” (for example, to escape domestic violence) it is unlikely to increase the overall number of people counted as homeless. Unless of course it improves the quality of data collection, given the dificulty in collecting information on/from people who are sleeping rough.

    Comment by Rachel — June 1, 2005 @ 12:09 pm

  4. I guess you’re trying to point to an aspect of ABS stats that people might not be aware of, but I think you do so in a less than helpful way.
    The suggestion that higher homelessness stats are good news for advocates is rather offensive. In addition, if the boarding house places are not made available it is hardly more likely that a person will cease to be homeless. What is more likely is that their homelessness won’t be counted, (whatever your defintion), as they will be more likely to have no sort of abode at all and thus be more invisible – assuming they don’t die of course, (which I guess is one way to reduce the homelessness stats).

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — June 1, 2005 @ 1:11 pm

  5. Andrew, what is really offensive is that advocates use figures, that the more intelligent of them must know are not applicable,to divert money from people who are really in need to their pet projects.
    I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to get a rational approach adopted to housing issues only to be thwarted by people who are only interested in what their pet interests can get out of it, not what might benefit the truly needy.

    Comment by Graham Young — June 3, 2005 @ 12:10 am

  6. At least in the Northern Territory (and in most other states as well, I suspect) the overwhelming bulk of homeless people are alcoholics or chronic substance abusers who actually don’t want permanent rental accommodation. Being forced to pay rent would leave less of the benefit cheque to spend on alcohol or other drugs. I know this from direct experience of acting for Aboriginal organisations in Darwin who offered low rental accommodation to homeless people, offers which were seldom taken up by people who would quite openly give the above reason for declining.
    There’s certainly a point in providing very cheap hostel accommodation for those of the homeless who need respite from the mean streets, but that does nothing to tackle the long-term issue or to reduce the homelessness statistics if they’re compiled in the manner Graham says (as I’m sure they are).
    Fairly clearly, the real need is to tackle alcoholism, drug addiction and their causes. And that is an issue much more complex and intractable than merely providing housing.

    Comment by Ken Parish — June 3, 2005 @ 9:00 am

  7. I didn’t realize the ABS is a department of the Queensland state government.
    Must be a pretty big conspiracy.

    Comment by alphacoward — June 3, 2005 @ 4:47 pm

  8. Ken, interesting you should raise the NT experience. The statistics actually say (Table 3.2 in the report I reference) that sleeping rough is 49.5% indigenous, and that more than half of those are in the Northern Territory.
    You are certainly correct that it is significantly an alcohol or drug dependency issue. It is also an indigenous issue. But again, the issue that needs to be solved is only secondarily to do with housing.

    Comment by Graham Young — June 4, 2005 @ 11:34 pm

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