Wicked problems


After what seemed like a lifetime of searching, skimming, reading, selecting and discarding articles, I eventually decided to focus my research on two interrelated wicked issues – housing and homelessness. As each week goes by and I dig further into some readings, I realise just how truly wicked in every sense of the word these issues are.

The term wicked issues (often used in public policy and economics) describes problems that are very difficult if not impossible to solve e.g. poverty, hunger, housing or homelessness to name a few. It is a term that describes the confronting issues a capitalist society would rather shove in the ‘too hard’ basket in the hopes that ‘captain’ government will step in.

I have always known that homelessness is a challenge, but I had not realised or grasped just how complicated and deep the issue runs – especially in a developed nation like Australia where more than 1 in 200 individuals are homeless on any given night. The housing situation is no better.

The reasons and causes of homelessness include but are not limited to:

  1. domestic and family violence
  2. inadequate or inappropriate housing
  3. breakdown in relationships
  4. exiting state care or prison.

In addition, most of these individuals are likely to experience chronic unemployment and intergenerational poverty.

I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around the cause and effect relationship between housing issues, homelessness and all these other factors,  i.e. is homelessness the result of having experienced any of the above factors or does experiencing the above lead to homelessness?

Likewise, what are the underlying issues contributing to housing. Poor urban planning practices? Over or under regulation of the property market, population explosion or both domestic and international migration? It honestly feels a lot like trying to determine whether the chicken or egg came first.

Not only that, there is a plethora of underlying challenges  that go unaddressed and exacerbate the experiences of these individuals. These include past traumas, mental health challenges and drug and alcohol abuse. One would hope the system is working to at least assist as many individuals but from the bit I have delved into, the system looks a lot more broken than I had anticipated.

I’m usually not one to easily cave in and accept that certain things are impossible, but I have to admit, when I really started to dig into this I felt a decent level of despair come over me and I had to have a chat with myself that all hope is not lost.

Every person deserves a dignified living in spite of whatever other flaws they may bare. We do need some out of the box thinking and perhaps a revised outlook on what we expect of government because this goes beyond government.

We need solutions for all – those who are experiencing housing challenges, those who are visibly without a home and the hidden homeless i.e. those individuals and families temporarily accommodated by friends, family or kind strangers or  perhaps living from motel to motel.




  1. I work in mental health and more often than not, I have cared for homeless patients. Part of the care planning process for patients is their discharge planning. This refers to: do they have support and do they have stable environment/accommodation they are returning to. I remember this patient who was living in his car. Everything he owned was in this car. Upon discharge, his options where to go to a temporary accommodation and this could either be refuge or motel. Accomodation remains one of the main issues that increase the length of stay for patients in hospitals.


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