In his analysis of Australia’s growing urban inequality, Peter Mares recounts a conversation with a homeless man outside a train station while Mares was walking his dog. The dog is well fed and has a warm place to sleep, but Mares can only give the man a few coins. These are implicit priorities we all share. Why, asks Mares, do Australians unhesitatingly spend $750 million annually on a ‘flutter on the neddies’ at the Melbourne Cup rather than on housing our fellow citizens? The policy discussions, political posturing, and expert advice on Australia’s housing crisis are hard to follow and often contradictory. ‘I am surely not alone,’ he writes, ‘in being perplexed by the radically divergent views in this debate.’ No Place Like Home is a compassionate, clear-eyed unpicking of one of contemporary Australia’s ‘wicked problems’.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 116,000 people were homeless on census night. Yet, of a larger group of people who move in and out of a cycle of homelessness, ‘rough sleepers’ are only the most visible. Others might stay with friends or family, couch surf, or find temporary accommodation in hostels or refuges. Homelessness is compounded by wider social problems, and it is not just about a lack of housing. In 2016–17, forty per cent of people seeking assistance from specialist homelessness services were doing so to escape family violence. In total, two and a half million Australians have experienced homelessness at some time in their lives, according to ABS figures.