Valley Veterans: veterans make up a significant number of Australia’s homeless

Here in ‘the lucky country’ with all of the opportunity and ‘wealth for toil’ available to us it would be reasonable to think that a social issue like homelessness would be almost eliminated or at least on the decline.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data tells us that rather than having homelessness beaten it is increasing significantly with the population of those sleeping rough climbing by 14% between 2011 and 2016.

A significant number of our nations homeless are veteran. Homelessness is not just a big city issue, many local areas are also not immune.

A significant number of our nations homeless are veteran. Homelessness is not just a big city issue, many local areas are also not immune.

Social housing availability, affordability of rental and home ownership combined with housing supply and demand pressures are prime factors in this increase. Unemployment, mental and physical health problems, substance abuse, domestic violence and family breakdown or a combination of any of these factors may result in an individual or family finding themselves homeless. 

Homelessness is not just a big city issue. ABS figures indicate that, according to the last census regional areas are not immune, with Nambucca Heads having around 27 homeless, Macksville - Scotts Head 9, Kempsey 93 and Taree 76. 

Frontline organisations like the Salvation Army, Mission Australia, The Australian Red Cross and St Vincent De Paul do what they can to assist the homeless and where possible, prevent homelessness occurring in the first place.  

Frances Robinson the Nambucca Shire 2018 Senior Citizen of the Year, recently led me to the fact that a significant number of our nations homeless are veterans. Frances who established the volunteer group known as ‘Mums from Macksville’ that support charities by producing care packages for those in need.

Frances Robinson the Nambucca Shire 2018 Senior Citizen of the Year is the woman behind Mums from Macksville, which gives help to charities including the veterans charity Wounded Heroes Australia. Photo by Mel Davis.

Frances Robinson the Nambucca Shire 2018 Senior Citizen of the Year is the woman behind Mums from Macksville, which gives help to charities including the veterans charity Wounded Heroes Australia. Photo by Mel Davis.

One of the organisations that is grateful to the selfless work done by Mums from Macksville is the veteran focused national community organisation Wounded Heroes Australia.

I spoke with the CEO of Wounded Heroes Australia, Martin Shaw. Martin is not a ‘desk bound’ CEO, he spends most of his time at the coal face dealing with homeless veterans personally. 

Despite a detailed study commissioned by RSL Queensland and several university sponsored studies, specific data on veteran homelessness is inconclusive.

My own findings from my chat with Martin however support my suspicions that the veterans community is over represented among the homeless. Martin is working with 17 homeless veterans on the Gold Coast alone and I was surprised to discover that most of these were young people, both men and women. 

Last year Martin and the team from Wounded Heroes Australia established an arm of their organisation known as Homeless Heroes to assist with emergency solutions and work toward solving the veteran homeless problem in Australia. Homeless Heroes works by the adage that it does not matter how many homeless there are, ‘one is too many’.  

To join the fight against homelessness on the local front perhaps you could talk to an organisation like the Salvation Army, The Australian Red Cross, St Vincent De Paul or Mums from Macksville to see what you can do to help.

About the author: Mick Birtles is a recently retired army officer now living in Nambucca Heads. During his 36-year career, Birtles served in Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for command and leadership. Here he shares his interest in the issues effecting veterans on the Mid North Coast.

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