Indigenous policies will continue to fail First Nations people until Australia properly recognises Aboriginal culture and the differences in how they live, a leading expert has said.

It comes after a recent report found the rise in cost of living and an overall lack of safe and affordable housing options continues to disproportionately push more and more Aboriginal Australians into homelessness.

Professor Lindon Coombes, from the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, said the failure to design housing services that suit the needs of Aboriginal people is just one area  that has created a serious issue.

“There is a persistent and consistent failure of Indigenous policies because there is no recognition of Aboriginal culture and their ways of living and being, and [as such] their relationship with the world and with each other is being greatly misrepresented and not well understood,” Coombes told Central News.

Coombes, who has worked in Aboriginal affairs for 25 years in a range of positions, has recently lead community forums in Brewarrina and Dubbo, speaking to Aboriginal people residing there.

He said housing conditions in Brewarrina showed accommodation was not functional for Indigenous families and the way they lived and related to each other.

“It seems to create a great complexity for non-Indigenous people, who will seek to take the easiest way out… rather than taking time to listen to what Aboriginal people are saying,” Coombes said.

Last month research by the University of South Australia revealed Aboriginal people were 15 times more likely to experience homelessness than that of other Australians due to racism, dispossession of land, profound economic disadvantage, and cultural oppression.

We really need a big shift in our cultural intellectual understanding.

“Support for the wraparound care that Aboriginal community-controlled organisations can provide is critical as self-determination in finding sustainable solutions is the key,” researcher Associate Professor Deirdre Tedmanson said.

“It’s a circular solution. Stable housing improves mental and physical health issues along with substance abuse, and addressing these issues leads to more secure housing. In short, we need more culturally safe accessible social housing for First Nations people.”

Poor literacy, education, criminal histories, domestic violence, and a lack of sustained tenancies have also been identified as key issues driving Aboriginal people into homelessness.

“It’s a complex issue… Mental health, employment, education, social and emotional wellbeing, a whole range of things can impact a person and a community and can lead them to homelessness,” added Coombes.

However, while poverty and discrimination continue to be leading causes of homelessness amongst Aboriginal people, the rapidly rising cost of living has made it even more difficult to address greater issues regarding inadequate funding, limited crisis and transitional accommodation and the shortage of affordable housing.

To tackle this issue, Coombes said an approach was needed that comes from a place of cultural consideration, understanding and respect.

“There is responsibility on both sides, where Aboriginal people need to be clear about who we are, what we do and what we want,” he said. “While people with the decision-making responsibility and the resources need to have a better understanding of what Aboriginal people are saying.

“We really need a big shift in our cultural intellectual understanding.”

Main image by Commonwealth Foundation/Flickr.