On the margins? Housing risk among caravan park residents
According to the 2001 Census, approximately 61 463 people reside in caravan parks, an increase of about 6263 people compared to the 1996 ABS Census. Three distinct sub-groups can be identified as using caravan parks: many older people who have chosen caravan park living as their primary form of housing for a range of reasons that suit their lifestyle; people who have to travel with work and do not wish to tie themselves to any one location; people who have few housing alternatives available to them. Most people living permanently in caravan parks, either as a lifestyle choice or as a last resort, live in very basic conditions with minimal facilities and locational amenity compared to conventional forms of housing.
Project Number: 70109
Research Theme(s): Homelessness and housing, Housing affordability
Project Leader: Wensing, Ed
Funding Year: 2001
Research Centre: UNSW-UWS
This research concerned one segment of the marginal housing market: the caravan sector. It aimed to increase understanding of the extent to which low-income caravan park residents were at risk of homelessness. This was achieved through three state/territory-based case studies (NSW, SA and NT). The main outcomes from the study were:
- a typology of caravan parks to shed light on geographical variation and type of resident population found in different parks
- identification of groups who are vulnerable to homelessness among caravan park dwellers
- identification of homelessness risk factors associated with caravan park living
- evidence for 'early intervention' strategies and prevention of future housing crisis.
Youth, women (especially women with children escaping domestic violence), families, and single men are the main social housing clients in caravan parks. They are also the five main target groups for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP). SAAP is the national program assisting people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness through a range of support and supported accommodation services. It has long been recognised that bottlenecks in crisis accommodation for the homeless are due to a lack of exit points from crisis assistance into medium or longer term housing. This means that SAAP service providers are sometimes forced to exit clients into marginal accommodation. This has created a SAAP and housing policy paradox, where a potentially large population of the incipient homeless inhabit a marginal housing sector that is located just beyond the remit of the SAAP sector. These are the households who form a major source of the potential homeless.
Caravans are one element of this marginal housing sector: boarding houses and those living with family and friends are others. Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments have been working together through the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement (CSHA) in developing the new SAAP agreement to integrate housing and homelessness policy to ensure that homeless people can access public housing. It is possible, however, that low-income caravan residents have been evicted from public housing and/or private rental or cannot afford the bond needed to secure this kind of accommodation. This suggests that this group is particularly vulnerable to housing risk and rests perpetually on the margins of homelessness. The characteristics, however, of the vulnerably housed in caravan parks had not been subject to close scrutiny. Nor had the geographical locations and social contexts of caravan parks been mapped and examined. Furthermore, no in-depth research had been conducted that explores risk factors among vulnerable people housed in caravans.
The Commonwealth recognises that early intervention is the best means of preventing homelessness. Lack of data undermines attempts to both inform early intervention policy and predict levels of future demand for government support services. Taken together, the dearth of information about the marginally housed in caravans, and the complexity factors affecting homelessness, make this a vexing area for public policy. The aims of the project were to: develop typology of caravan parks sorted by geographical location and resident population; provide a profile of groups who are vulnerable to homelessness among caravan park dwellers, identify the risk factors among groups likely to promote housing crisis; analyse pathways into caravan parks and incidence of incipient homelessness; explore the potential pathways out of this form of marginal housing; and the policy supports needed to effect this; assess the benefit of early intervention among caravan residents at risk of homelessness; contribute to the development of current AHURI funded research on predictors of housing vulnerability and incipient homelessness at the UNSW/UWS AHURI Research Centre.