Aboriginal Environments Research Centre

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

This research, funded by the Australian Housing and Research Institute (AHURI), focused on 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 to refer to themselves with such labels as 'parkies', 'goomies', 'long grassers', or 'river campers'.

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.

  • To examine the definitions and constructs of 'Indigenous homelessness' found in the literature.
  • To develop a more useful set of categories based on the complex range of circumstances and needs of ‘the homeless’ and ‘public place dwellers’.
  • To clarify further the relation between categories of Indigenous homelessness and public place dwelling on the one hand, and categories of responses to the needs of such people on the other.
  • To identify and profile a number of good practice response strategies, which were being used to address the needs of particular categories of homeless or public place dwelling Indigenous people.
  • The need for partnerships between Indigenous organizations and multiple levels and areas of government.
  • Housing and accommodation strategies must be tied to other social services.
  • Produced a basic model of what these interactions may entail, and provided valuable insight into what these partnerships must achieve to be considered effective.
  • The response models outlined can be adapted or used as a benchmark in the design of other local policies and programs, reflecting the particular circumstances of differing locations.
  • The research demonstrates that good response practices already exist and can be useful for consideration in designing local and regional strategies.
  • This project has also demonstrated the role that empirical data about the history and current needs of the Indigenous population can play in the formation of effective policy and the design of realistic strategies.
  • The model of how categories and responses relate to one another in the area of Indigenous homelessness will also be an essential tool for those attempting to evaluate the success of any strategy or approach.
  • Complete
  • 2002
Project Contacts
    Project Team: 
  • Stephen Long
  • Catherine Chambers
  • Frederick Spring
Partners & Funding Details
    Funding Body: 
  • Australian Housing and Research Institute (AHURI)
  • Memmott, P., Long, S., Chambers, C. & Spring, F. 2003 Final Report: Categories of Indigenous ‘Homeless’ People and Good Practice Responses to Their Needs, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Queensland Research Centre, St Lucia.
  • Memmott, P., Long, S. & Chambers, C. 2003 Categories of Indigenous ‘Homeless’ People and Good Practice Responses to their Needs – Positioning Paper. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Queensland Research Centre, St Lucia, July.
  • Memmott, P., Long, S. & Chambers, C. 2003 “Practice Responses to Indigenous Public Place Dwelling and Homelessness”, in Parity, No. 9, Vol. 16, pp.11-13.
  • Memmott, P. 2003 “’The Long Grass’ Survey” in Parity, No. 9, Vol. 16, pp. 18,19.