Zero project data reveals stark housing inequalities faced by Aboriginal people

It takes almost twice as long for a homeless Aboriginal person on a priority list to be housed, as compared to a non-Aboriginal person, according to the latest data from Zero Project.

The disparity is one of several revealed in the research project report, Aboriginal Experiences of Housing First, produced by Centre for Social Impact (CSI) UWA's Associate Professor Lisa Wood and Research Associate Shannen Vallesi, and launched today at a WA Alliance to End Homelessness event.

The research report presents data from the 50 Lives 50 Homes project, now called the Zero Project .

Led by Ruah Community Services, the Zero Project aims to end homelessness by bringing together all the support services a person will need to make and sustain positive changes to their life.

The project supports more than 400 vulnerable rough sleepers in Perth, 40% of whom are Aboriginal.

Data from the latest report shows that an Aboriginal person will wait on average 308 days for housing after receiving a priority listing. The wait time for a non-Aboriginal person in the same situation is 170 days.

Bureaucratic barriers

The research highlights several bureaucratic policies and practices that creates barriers for Aboriginal people to move into public housing, such as additional conditions placed on tenancies or strict policies that stopped tenants transferring out of unsuitable housing.

CSI UWA Research Associate, Shannen Vallesi, said the report showed that ending homelessness could not be achieved through a “one size fits all” approach, and that a more culturally sensitive approach was needed, especially when it came to finding suitable accommodation:

“The available housing often does not enable Aboriginal tenants to accommodate their extended families or there are strict rules put in place to prevent family from staying, which does not support Aboriginal kinship obligations,” said Shannon.

“We heard from people during the research who were unable to let their family stay with them because they feared losing their homes, and this caused them to have deep feelings of sadness and loneliness. In some cases, people abandoned their properties to be closer to their family, either by staying at another’s home or even returning to the streets.”

“There is an urgent need for culturally sensitive approaches to ending Aboriginal homelessness, and these need to be driven by Aboriginal housing providers.”

Culturally sensitive approaches

The report made several recommendations to improve the way in which housing providers engaged with Aboriginal tenants and potential tenants. At the top of the list was the employment of more Aboriginal support workers who could provide culturally appropriate support and assist people to maintain their tenancies.

Larger homes to accommodate extended families and family obligations were needed, along with more housing provided via Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

The report pointed to the Wongee Mia program as example of a new approach being implemented with great success. Rather than finding housing for just one person, the program works with an entire family to address homelessness and provide culturally appropriate responses to housing challenges.

“The Wongee Mia program is an example of a culturally sensitive approach to homelessness and housing that is responsive to tenants needs and supports them to flourish within their tenancies,” said Shannon.

“Programs such as this need to be celebrated and expanded.”