It beats living in a tent (a survey of caravan park residents in 2005)

An article originally published in Parity in 2005.

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The Caravan Project recently completed surveys with 142 residents on eight caravan parks in the Lower Hunter with the aim of providing a snapshot of the park residents we support. The study confirmed our experience that while there were significant levels of disadvantage on the parks, caravan parks play an important role in providing low cost housing. The survey included questions on:

  • Demographic details such as age, ethnicity, work status, household and family structure
  • Forms of available transport
  • Housing history and housing needs
  • Satisfaction with current living arrangements
  • Sense of safety on the park, in the home and in general
  • The effects of alcohol consumption on quality of life and relationships
  • Psychological sense of community.

General Characteristics

Based on estimates of the number of residents provided by managers (which ranged from precise numbers to rough guesses) we interviewed about 30% of the residents on the eight parks. Just over half of the people surveyed were women (51.4%). There was only one resident from a non-English speaking background, but 9.2% identified themselves as being from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background (compared to 2.2% for the Hunter).

Just under 44% lived along, 23.2% lived with their partner, 15.5% lived with just their children and 9.1% lived with their partner and children. Over two thirds had completed no higher than year 10 at school. Only 18.3% of those surveyed were involved in the labour force in either a full time, part-time or casual basis. As surveys were conducted during traditional work hours, however, employed residents were under-represented. A high proportion of participants (85.2%) said their primary source of income was a pension or benefit from Centrelink. Thirty percent of the participants reported that they had experienced mental health problems (65% of whom reported depression and/or anxiety disorders).

Many residents relied on public transport or friends with only 52.1% having a car (or their partner having one). When asked about their alcohol consumption, 24.6% said they never drank, 39.5% drank less than once a week, 22.6% drank 1-4 days a week and 13.4% said they drank 5 or more days a week. Of those who drank, 5.5% said their drinking affected their daily life, 10.1% said it affected their relationships with others, 11.9% said they had health problems from drinking, and 10.1% said they had a drinking problem. Of all the participants, 24.6% said they were affected by the drinking of others.

Participants were asked about their feelings of safety in the park. The majority felt safe on parks, but just over 10% never or rarely felt safe. Women were less likely to feel safe on the park, and more likely to have concerns about the safety of their children in the park and at home (see tables 1 & 2). Men were more likely to have general concerns about the children’s safety.

Boomgate table 1Table 1: Feelings of safety on the park by gender

Boomgate table 2Table 2: Concerns for safety of children by gender

Women were also more likely to have experienced verbal and physical abuse in the past 12 months, than men (see table 3). Over half the women (54.9%) had experienced verbal or physical abuse in the past 12 months compared with 42.4% of the men.

Boomgate table 3Table 3: Experience of abuse in the past 12 months by gender

The young women on the caravan parks were particularly likely to be victims of violence, with 80% of female participants under 24 (n=20) saying they had been physically assaulted in the past 12 months (see table 4): 35% of these women said that physical assault was something they experienced ‘often’.

Boomgate table 4Table 4: Percentage of participants experiencing physical violence in the past 12 months by age and gender

It needs to be noted that not all of the violence was a result of living on a caravan park. For example, for some residents a caravan park was the way out of an abusive relationship.

Housing Issues

Just over half the residents (51.4%) rented both their dwelling and the site, while 47.1% owned the dwelling but rented the site. Over a third (36.4%) lived in a caravan with an annexe, 27.1% lived in a caravan without an annexe and 35.7% lived in a relocatable home or cabin. Half the residents had lived on their park for 12 months or less, and 14.7% had lived on their park for 5 years or more.

For most a caravan park had not been their fist choice: 24.6% said they had no choice or nowhere else to go; 5.6% were homeless prior to moving into the park; 4.4% moved to the park to escape domestic violence, and 7.4% had moved to the park after a relationship break-up (see table 5).

Boomgate table 5Table 5: Reasons for moving to the caravan park

Approximately 40% of the participants said that they had experienced a period of homelessness although some of the responses demonstrated the subjective nature of homelessness. One female participant with children responded to the question ‘Have you experienced a length of time being homeless?’ with: ‘Yes and no. I’ve got a car, so I could always go to somewhere. But without a car I would have been homeless’. Another female participant answered ‘no‘ to having ever been homeless even though her previous place of residence was a ‘lawn locker‘. Some questioned whether their current situation was that of homelessness: ‘Well if you call this homeless, then I am homeless. But I suppose this is home now.’ Another participant who had lived in the caravan park for 18 years felt that he was currently homeless.

TICA, the main residential tenancy database used in the area (which allow property managers to list, and check for, ‘bad’ tenants), had a significant impact on a small number of participants. The majority of participants (53.4%) said they were unfamiliar with TICA or did not know if they were on the database. For those blacklisted on TICA (7.1%), the typical effect was that they were unable to secure rental accommodation and this had led them to seek accommodation in the caravan park. Of the park residents who said they had experienced homelessness, 16.4% were listed on TICA, compared with only 1.2% of those who had not experienced homelessness. The impact of TICA on those who had been homeless was also indicated by the fact that of the people who had been listed on TICA (n=10), 90% had experienced homelessness.

Most participants said they were satisfied (45.8%) or very satisfied (31.7%) with their current living arrangements and only 22.5% were not satisfied. People who lived alone or with just their partner were more likely to be satisfied than those who also had their children with them (see Table 6).

Boomgate table 6Table 6: Level of satisfaction by household

Participants who responded ‘not satisfied’ (n=33) most frequently cited reasons such as overcrowding, no good for kids, problems with other residents, inadequate living conditions, and drug and alcohol use of other residents (see Table 7).

Boomgate table 7Table 7: Reason for not being satisfied with living arrangements

Actual comments included:

I’m not satisfied because I have one bed and 3 people, my baby is due in 3 months and there is no room for a cot. And my next-door neighbour is a whinging bitch.

The caravan is a cockroach-infested fleapit. I’ve cleaned it up but there is rotten timber. I had no choice but to take this or stay in my car – It’s substandard accommodation.

It’s not a good place to have your kids… because you find used syringes in the toilet and lots of people with HepC.

I hate the people. The people here are on drugs and are violent.

The most common reasons participants were satisfied or very satisfied (n=110) included friends and social aspects of living on the caravan park, neighbours, sense of community, good management, convenient location and nice environment (see Table 8).

Boomgate table 8

Table 8: Reason for not being satisfied with living arrangements

Comments included:

The people – like a big happy family.

I’m very satisfied the children love it, friends, like a little community.

I have my own home; no one can take it off me.

Its space, it’s functional; and quiet; no one worries us. Quiet and private and we like the social side of living here.

The largest group (45.8%) said they were ‘satisfied’. Thirteen percent of the participants indicated that they were satisfied because a caravan was better than the available alternatives. The following comments from participants elaborate on this theme:

It’s a roof over my head, a roof over my daughter’s head. A place to stay to fix up my problems.

It’s a roof over my head but it needs fixing badly. It’s better than staying on the streets.

It beats living in a tent.

Conclusion

Although there can be high levels of disadvantage on caravan parks, some people find park life a positive experience. The sense of community that can develop on parks plays an important role in reducing isolation and providing informal support to residents. Particular attention, however, needs to be given to the experience of families with young children, for whom park life is often difficult. As service providers we would do well to consider ways of addressing the levels of disadvantage by strengthening park communities.

Originally published in:

About Graeme Stuart

I'm passionate about sustainability, community engagement and parenting. I'm happily married with two daughters (aged 13 and 11), work as a lecturer at The University of Newcastle's Family Action Centre (in Australia) and volunteer as the Convenor of Transition Newcastle.
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