The 'Invisible Homeless': Challenges faced by families bringing up their children in a remote Australian Aboriginal community

Anne Lowell, Ḻäwurrpa Maypilama, Yallatin Guyula, Abbey Guyula, Megan Yunupiŋu, Jenine Godwin-Thompson, Emily Armstrong, Jane Garrutju, Rose McEldowney, Lyn Fasoli, Rosemary Gundjarranbuy

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Background: Insufficient and inadequate housing remain serious and enduring problems in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia. Housing is recognised as a key determinant of persisting inequities between Aboriginal and other Australians in health, as well as education and employment outcomes which in turn impact on health. In our qualitative study exploring strengths and challenges related to early childhood in a remote NT community, insufficient housing emerged as the greatest challenge families experience in 'growing up' their children.

Methods: The "Growing up children in two worlds" study engaged Yolŋu (Aboriginal) and other researchers in a culturally responsive qualitative research process. Methods included video ethnography and in-depth interviews with six case study families as well as participant observation and interviews with a wide range of other community members. Data collection and analysis occurred through an iterative and collaborative process and the findings related to housing are the focus of this article.

Results: Concerns about crowded and insecure housing were pervasive in the study community where many families are, in effect, homeless. Most rely on extended family to provide accommodation and some never find a secure and stable space in which to bring up their children. Absence of control over their living conditions is a key element underlying many of the sources of distress associated with crowded housing. The lack of food security, sharing sickness and disturbances in the night affecting sleep are just some of the challenges that generate conflict between family members and impact on health, wellbeing, work and school attendance. Although interaction with other family members is highly valued, the ambition of most participants is for independent and secure accommodation in which they can safely 'grow up' their children.

Conclusions: Yolŋu who live with the consequences of crowded and insecure housing want their voices to be heard. They best understand the challenges they face and their perspectives must inform the solutions. Equitable access to housing through sufficient and sustained investment in an integrated approach, engaging all stakeholders, is needed. This is essential to address persisting inequities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians in health and other outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1382
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2018


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