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Worrying rate of veterans sleeping rough

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Thousands of Australian veterans are sleeping rough each year, a stark new study has confirmed.

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An inquiry funded by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs found about 5800 ex-servicemen and women were homeless over 12 months.

A recent report from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute found the homeless rate among veterans, at 5.3 per cent, was significantly higher than the national average of 1.9 per cent.

Some 21.7 per cent of veterans also reported being homeless at some point, compared with 13 per cent of the general population.

The problem was also underscored in an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released late last year, which looked at former ADF members who had served since the start of 2001.

About 1215 of that population accessed specialist homelessness services between 2011 and 2017, with women and younger people more likely to be clients.

That accounted for 1.1 per cent of contemporary ex-serving ADF members, which was far lower than the 3.4 per cent of other Australians who accessed homelessness support in the same period.

As well as estimating the number of veterans sleeping rough, the research also examined their pathways into homelessness.

The reasons are difficult to isolate but the risk factors are often similar to the general population, including mental illness, substance abuse and poverty.

“However, our research also identified a number of unique factors that increase the risk of becoming homeless for veterans,” report co-author Fiona Hilferty said on Friday.

“These risks include relationship breakdown, being medically discharged from the Australian Defence Force, and being unemployed for more than three months following the transition from military service.”

The UNSW researchers believe more work is needed to track homelessness rates among veterans.

“We do not know whether veteran homelessness is increasing or decreasing. Homeless people are amongst the hardest population group from whom to collect data,” report co-author Ilan Katz said.

“Additionally, our research has revealed that older Australian veterans go to great efforts to isolate themselves from family, and live in a manner that avoids authorities and attention.”

The co-authors also want further research into the geography of veteran homelessness, the effectiveness of services and the extent of the issue among older ex-servicemen and women.

-AAP

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