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'Positive Spin' Needed On Homelessness Crisis, Minister Claims

Assistant Housing Minister Luke Howarth insists he wants to put a "positive spin" on homelessness figures, despite lord mayors demanding more action to tackle the issue in capital cities.

Howarth, who was recently promoted to the role, said the more than 116,000 homeless people made up just 0.5 per cent of Australia's population.

"I want to put a positive spin on it as well and not just say Australia's in a housing crisis when it affects a very, very small percentage of the population," he told ABC Radio National on Tuesday.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers branded the comments an "absolute disgrace", saying he had set a new low in the way homeless people were talked about.

Photo: Getty

"This guy is not the minister for homelessness, he's the minister for hopelessness," he told reporters in Brisbane.

"Scott Morrison's message via his minister to 116,000 homeless Australians is that they should be happier and more upbeat about it."

READ MORE: Australia's Shocking Youth Homelessness Figures 

READ MORE: There Are Almost 30,000 Employed And Homeless Australians

Howarth said between 2001 and 2016 the number of people living on the street or in tents and other improvised dwellings had decreased, while severely crowded accommodation had increased.

"There are a number of areas and I'll be focusing on all of them, but I think people on the street is important because that's what Australians see if they're in a capital city," Howarth said.

"They can see people on the street - they want something done about that."

Howarth (right) with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in April. Photo: AAP

In the 15-year period between 2001 and 2016, the portion of homeless people in urban areas spiked to 63 per cent from 48 per cent.

Reducing homelessness will be in the spotlight when Howarth meets lord mayors in Brisbane on Tuesday.

READ MORE: The Problem With Linking Crime To Being Homeless

According to the most recent census, 116,427 people were counted as being homeless, up from 102,439 in 2011.

NSW experienced the biggest increase, with a 37 per cent rise, while the number of homeless people in Queensland went up 14 per cent, and rose 11 per cent in Victoria.

Photo: Getty

While state premiers and local government have called for urgent action to combat affordable housing shortages, Howarth pointed to emergency accommodation as a crucial issue.

"What I'm hearing from people that are on the ground is that emergency accommodation is a really important issue and we need more emergency accommodation," he said.