Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Homelessness and Housing Stress among Police Detainees: Results from the DUMA Program

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Homelessness and Housing Stress among Police Detainees: Results from the DUMA Program

Article excerpt

The Australian Bureau of Statistics, using the 2011 Australian Census, has estimated that on any given night in 2011, approximately 105,000 Australians were homeless (ABS 2012). The majority resided in either severely overcrowded residential dwellings (39%) or in supported accommodation designed specifically for those without a permanent place of residence (20%). Among them, young males, Indigenous Australians and those born overseas were overrepresented. Yet despite all the information that has been collected, there remains a significant gap in the national conversation about the causes, correlates and more importantly the consequences of homelessness (including primary, secondary and tertiary homelessness; see Homelessness Taskforce 2008) in the Australian context.

The idea that a person's living situation can influence their involvement in criminal activity has long been acknowledged, with homelessness in particular having been the focus of extensive theoretical and empirical criminological research (see Grimshaw 2002). Although long recognised as an important indicator of social disadvantage, homelessness as a cause of crime found renewed attention with the release of Hagan and Macarthy's (1997) detailed depiction of youth crime and homelessness in two Canadian cities. Titled Mean Streets: Youth Crime and Homelessness, the authors examined qualitative and quantitative data to explore the often difficult and challenging circumstances faced by homeless youth. Their study lent significant support to the idea that homelessness, together with relative deprivation and monetary dissatisfaction, is one of a number of 'strains' that can influence individuals to engage in criminal activity (see also Agnew 2006).

In more recent years, the international literature has largely focused on the relationship between homelessness and the recidivism of prisoner and parolee populations (see Aos, Miller & Drake 2006; Lipsey & Cullen 2007), concluding most recently that stable accommodation has some role to play in reducing post-release reoffending, even if the evidence of a direct and substantial causal relationship is far from conclusive (O'Leary 2013). In the literature, a number of different explanations are commonly used to describe the correlation between homelessness and crime, including that:

* by virtue of living in a public place, people who are homeless are more susceptible to committing public order offences such as trespassing and public urination;

* those without stable accommodation may have little choice but to engage in 'survival offending' such as shoplifting and squatting;

* substance abuse as a coping mechanism may lead to offending behaviour in order to fund habits; and

* police may specifically target homeless populations because of perceived community safety issues, or because homeless populations are more visible to street policing operations (Kirkwood & Richley 2008).

Most importantly, however, Hagan and McCarthy's (1997) Mean Streets served as a timely reminder that as a group having frequent contact with the criminal justice system, the homeless face a set of unique challenges for which evidence-based policy and interventions are needed.

For policymakers and practitioners in the criminal justice sector, information about homelessness in its various forms can be crucial to the management of offenders and the prevention of crime. In the courts and corrective services arena in particular, questions of accommodation stability and quality are of key concern when developing individual offender management plans and community supervision orders. For ex-prisoners, the question of housing and accommodation is equally important and all Australian jurisdictions currently operate some form of 'post release' program that aims to identify secure housing and accommodation options for offenders upon their release from prison.

Development of such programs stems from evidence that secure housing remains an important protective factor for the reintegration of former inmates and that offenders who do not establish adequate and secure housing upon their release have higher rates of reoffending and imprisonment than those who do (Baldry et al. …

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