Homelessness remains a huge problem in Australia and an important contributing factor is low literacy levels.
We interviewed 23 people who were homeless or had experienced homelessness to find out how they viewed literacy and participation in literacy classes. We wanted to know what would help or hinder them in attending literacy classes.
Our report found low literacy levels affected homeless people’s lives in many ways. Our interviewees repeatedly emphasised the importance of having a literacy program suited to their needs.
Common factors driving poor literacy
Housing instability or adolescent homelessness was a common factor contributing to poor literacy. Dropping out of school at an early stage was typical.
I dropped out of school in Year 7 so I haven’t had much schooling […] And then going to being on the streets and going from house to house you don’t learn very much. Just what sort of you learn from other people.
Lisa told us:
I tried to get my Year 10 but I didn’t end up getting it [Year 10 certificate] cos’ I had a baby. And I ended up taking my baby back to school but I’d probably say Year 9.
Sam had a similar history:
I left halfway through Year 10. I didn’t even finish my Year 10 exams. I did the half-yearly but didn’t complete my certificate so I found it really hard to get into work.
I didn’t really start reading until I was an adult. I read the pictures in MAD magazines and stuff like that.
They also spoke about factors such as learning dis/abilities such as dyslexia, as well as systemic factors such as racism.
Rick, an older Indigenous man, experienced institutional racism throughout his youth:
I didn’t have much schooling because of discrimination back in the 60s, 70s and that, and didn’t get much to school.