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Key data quality information: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2015–16

The AIHW plays a role in developing and maintaining national metadata standards. This work contributes to improving the quality and consistency of national health and welfare statistics. The AIHW works closely with governments and non-government organisations to achieve greater adherence to these standards in administrative data collections to promote national consistency and comparability of data and reporting.

One of the main functions of the AIHW is to work with the states and territories to improve the quality of administrative data and to compile, analyse and disseminate national data sets based on data from each jurisdiction.

Data Quality Statements are developed for each data set and made available on the AIHW Metadata Online Registry (METeOR).

The 2015–16 Specialist Homelessness Services Collection Data Quality Statement is available from METeOR.

The collection of additional information has improved the quality of data for clients on care and protection orders. Before 2015–16 clients recorded as having a care arrangement of either ‘parents’ or ‘other living arrangement’ were excluded. From 2015–16 these care types are now included. In addition, care and protection information provided in all collection months in all support periods are now included reflecting the monthly data collected from specialist homelessness agencies. These changes constitute a break in statistical time series and hence previous data on clients on care and protection orders are not comparable.

The 9% increase nationally in client numbers in 2015–16, and the similar increase in support, was the largest since the collection began in 2011–12. These increases were largely a consequence of increases in New South Wales. New South Wales homelessness services underwent a period of major transition in 2014–15 that affected continuity of reporting for some service providers. These issues did not affect New South Wales data for 2015–16. As outlined in the Data Quality Statement caution should be used when making comparisons of 2014–15 data with other years' figures for New South Wales or with data for other states and territories. Other jurisdictional-specific information can be found in the Data Quality Statement.

Further information on the data quality of 2015–16 SHSC data can be found in the Explanatory notes in the national and state and territory Supplementary tables.

Imputation strategy for the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection

Imputation was used in an effort to adjust 2015–16 reporting to correct for two types of error: agency non-response and data error in the statistical linkage key (SLK) which is used, among other things, to determine the number of clients serviced.

Agency non-response was adjusted for in two ways: by using an agency's own reported data to adjust for missing data (explicit imputation) and by weighting fully responding agencies to adjust for similar agencies with missing data (implicit imputation). Nineteen agencies underwent explicit imputation whilst implicit imputation was used for 58 agencies.

Invalid or missing SLK data were adjusted for by applying weights at the client level. These weights increased the counts of clients, taking into account the number of service period records with invalid or missing SLK data along with the observed distribution of the number of visits per client. There were about 16,500 support period records (approximately 3% of all records) with invalid or missing SLK data.

Data derivations

Homelessness status and other housing categories

All clients of specialist homelessness services are considered to be either homeless or at risk of homelessness. Homelessness and at-risk status is determined by the specific criteria described below. Clients who did not provide sufficient information to make this assessment are excluded.

These categories are designed to, as far as is possible, align with the ABS statistical definition of homelessness (ABS 2012a). However, there are some key areas where alignment may not occur. The ABS definition includes people living in severely crowded dwellings and as no specific question on crowding is included in the SHSC, this group cannot be separately identified.

Also, the ABS exclude certain groups of people from the homeless count where they appear to have accommodation alternatives or where there is a clear choice about the type of accommodation (for example, people who are travelling, people returning from overseas, certain owner builder or hobby farmers, and students living in halls of residence). However, if people in these circumstances become clients of specialist homelessness agencies, they are included here as either homeless or at risk of homelessness, depending on their housing situation as reported.

Clients are considered to be homeless if they are living in any of the following circumstances:

  • No shelter or improvised dwelling: includes where dwelling type is no dwelling/street/park/in the open, motor vehicle, improvised building/dwelling, caravan, cabin, boat or tent; or tenure type is renting or living rent-free in a caravan park.
  • Short-term temporary accommodation: dwelling type is boarding/rooming house, emergency accommodation, hotel/motel/bed and breakfast; or tenure type is renting or living rent-free in boarding/rooming house, renting or living rent-free in emergency accommodation or transitional housing.
  • House, townhouse or flat (couch surfing or with no tenure): tenure type is no tenure; or conditions of occupancy are living with relatives fee free, couch surfing.

Clients are considered to be at risk if they are living in any of the following circumstances:

  • Public or community housing (renter or rent free): dwelling type is house/townhouse/flat and tenure type is renter or rent-free public housing, renter or rent-free-community housing.
  • Private or other housing (renter, rent-free or owner): dwelling type is house/townhouse/flat and tenure type is renter-private housing, life tenure scheme, owner―shared equity or rent/buy scheme, owner-being purchased/with mortgage, owner-fully owned, rent-free-private/other housing.
  • Institutional settings: dwelling type is hospital, psychiatric hospital, disability support, rehabilitation, boarding school, adult correctional facility, youth/juvenile justice detention centre or immigration detention centre.

Support periods

The period of time a client receives services from a specialist homelessness agency is referred to as a support period. A support period starts on the day the client first receives a service and ends when:

  • the relationship between the client and the agency ends
  • the client has reached their maximum amount of support the agency can offer
  • a client has not received any services from the agency for a whole calendar month and there is no ongoing relationship.

The end of the support period is the day the client last received services from the agency.

Calculating total length of accommodation (and total length of support)

To calculate accommodation and support length, every night (for length of accommodation) or day (for length of support) the client received support or accommodation in 2015–16 is added together. This means that the total number of days/nights presented for clients does not necessarily represent a consecutive number of days/nights the client received support/accommodation. For example, a client who received accommodation for 7 nights may have had 2 separate periods of accommodation: 1 for 5 nights and another for 2 nights.

Agency remoteness area

Agencies have been classified according to their remoteness area (RA) as defined by the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) Remoteness Structure (ABS 2012c). The latest available version of the RA indicator (from the 2011 Census) has been developed by the ABS based on the Accessibility/Remoteness Indicator Australia (ARIA) used in the 2001 Census.

Using this classification, agencies participating in the SHSC were assigned to an RA based on their recorded Local Government Area (LGA) code.

Two concordances produced by the ABS have been used to match the LGA of agencies participating in the SHSC to RAs defined by the 2011 Census. Neither concordance is 1:1—where an agency's LGA represents a proportion of an RA, the agency is assigned to the RA with the largest representation in the LGA. Where an agency's LGA code was missing, an RA was assigned using a Postal Area Index, also developed by the ABS.

Identifying and meeting service needs

Identifying clients' needs for a service

The SHSC collects information on the needs of clients during their period of support from a specialist homelessness agency. Needs may be identified by the client and/or the service provider. Although this information is collected at the beginning of a support period, updated at the end of each month a client is supported and again at the end of each support period, each individual need is only recorded once in any collection month. For these analyses, a client need for a service is recorded if the client needed that service at any time in 2015–16. For example, a client is recorded as needing short-term accommodation if they were recorded as needing short-term accommodation in any collection month of 2015–16, regardless of the number of months over which this need was recorded, or the number of times during 2015–16 they presented with this need.

Meeting clients' service needs

There are several aspects to analysing the extent to which clients' needs for assistance are met. The first is to analyse the services provided to a client directly by the specialist homelessness agency. Where agencies are unable to provide services directly to clients or unable to fully meet the need they often refer the client to other organisations (either other specialist homelessness agencies or other organisations) that can provide those services. This information is also collected in the SHSC and is considered an important form of assistance that agencies provide, although it is not possible to know if these referrals resulted in the provision of services.

All information on services that are provided, whether referred or not, are recorded in the same way as service needs. That is, a service is recorded as provided if the client was provided that type of assistance at any time in 2015–16.

In some circumstances, an agency will not be able to either provide required services directly to clients, or refer them to another organisation—this is considered to be an unmet need. Further information about unmet needs can be found in the Unmet demand section of the report.

Indigenous clients

A client is considered as Indigenous if, at any time in 2015–16, they identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin.

In the SHSC, information on Indigenous status is only provided with explicit client consent to report this information. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander was not reported for 10% of clients in 2015–16.

Clients born overseas

A client is identified as overseas-born, if at any time in 2015–16, they identified that their country of birth was a country other than Australia.

In the SHSC, information on country of birth is only provided with explicit client consent to report this information. Country of birth information was not reported for 14% of clients in 2015–16.

Young people presenting alone

Young people are defined as clients aged 15–24 who presented alone in their first support period in the reporting period.

The age of the client is defined as the client's age on the start date of their first support period in the reporting period. For those who were ongoing clients at the beginning of the reporting period, the client's age on the first day of the reporting period is used.

Older people

Older people are defined as clients aged 55 or older.

The age of the client is defined as their age on the start date of their first support period in the reporting period. For those who were ongoing clients at the beginning of the reporting period, the client's age on the first day of the reporting period is used.

Clients who experienced domestic and family violence

SHSC clients were counted as experiencing domestic and family violence if any support period during the reporting period:

  • 'domestic and family violence' was reported as a reason they sought assistance, or
  • during any support period they required domestic or family violence assistance.

The SHSC reports on clients who are victims of domestic and family violence. Current perpetrators of domestic and family violence who may also be receiving assistance from a homelessness agency are not able to be identified within the SHSC.

Clients with a current mental health issue

A client was identified as having a current mental health issue if they provided any of the following information:

  • They indicated that at the beginning of a support period they were receiving services or assistance for their mental health issues or had in the past 12 months.
  • Their formal referral source to the specialist homelessness agency was a mental health service.
  • They reported 'mental health issues' as a reason for seeking assistance.
  • Their dwelling type either a week before presenting to an agency, or when presenting to an agency, was a psychiatric hospital or unit.
  • They had been in a psychiatric hospital or unit in the last 12 months.
  • At some stage during their support period, a need was identified for psychological services, psychiatric services or mental health services.

This analysis does not include clients aged under 10.

Clients on care and protection orders

A client is identified as being under a care or protection order if they are aged under 18 and have provided any of the following information in any support period (any month within the support period) during the reporting period (either the week before, at the beginning of the support period or during support):

  • They reported that they were under a care and protection order (and the care arrangement was known).
  • They have reported ‘Transition from foster care/child safety residential placements’ as a reason for seeking assistance, or main reason for seeking assistance.

Clients leaving care

Clients are counted as transitioning from care arrangements if, in their first support period during the reporting period, either in the week before or at presentation:

  • the dwelling type was: hospital (excluding psychiatric), psychiatric hospital or unit, disability support, rehabilitation or aged care facility, or
  • their reason for seeking assistance was transition from foster care/child safety residential placements or transition from other care arrangements.

Clients who were exiting custodial arrangements

Clients are counted as leaving a custodial setting if, in their first support period during the reporting period, either in the week before or at presentation:

  • their dwelling type was: adult correctional facility, youth or juvenile justice detention centre or immigration detention centre or
  • their reason for seeking assistance was: transition from custodial arrangements or
  • their source of formal referral to the agency was: youth or juvenile justice detention centre, or adult correctional facility.

Some of these clients were still in custody at the time they began receiving support.

Children aged under 10 identified as exiting from adult correction facilities or youth/juvenile justice detention centres have been excluded because of concerns about the quality of the data, as children aged under 10 years cannot be charged with a criminal offence in any jurisdiction in Australia. Children aged under 10 transitioning from immigration detention centres have been retained in this group.

Unassisted requests for services

Unassisted requests for services provide a measure of the number of instances where a person received no immediate services from a specialist homelessness agency. It is not a measure of the number of people who did not receive services from an agency. Numbers exclude multiple requests from the same person (at any agency) on the same day, but may include requests from the same person (at any agency) on different days.

The data are presented as a daily average of requests for services because the information that is used to create the SLK was not available for 51% of the unmet requests for service in 2015–16. Without a valid SLK, it is not possible to identify whether a person requested the same service more than once from the same agency or from different agencies on different days. Similarly, people who received services at a later date, thus becoming clients, cannot be identified where a valid SLK is not available.

Technical notes

Data presentation

Data presented in the report and in the supplementary tables are mainly based on 'clients', with some data based on 'support periods' or 'client groups' (or 'presenting units'—which identify clients who present together to a specialist homelessness agency, including clients who present alone—and receive a service). Information on clients who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or part of a group of special interest, is mostly client-level data and information on agencies, unmet demand and trends data is predominantly support period data.

Data in tables that are adjusted for non-response (agency non-response and data error in the SLK) have had a weighting methodology applied which results in estimated figures that are not whole numbers. As a result, all figures in these tables are rounded to the nearest whole number and client numbers in separate columns may not add to the figure for 'all clients' due to rounding.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has strict confidentiality policies which have their basis in section 29 of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Act 1987 (AIHW Act) and the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act). Cells in supplementary tables may be suppressed for either confidentiality reasons or where estimates are based on small numbers, resulting in low reliability. Information that results in attribute disclosure, (that is, if as well as being able to identify the entity, other details are revealed), will be suppressed unless agreement from the particular data provider to publish the data has been reached. Information on AIHW's Privacy policy is available on the privacy webpage.

Population estimates used for rates calculations

All rates in this report, including historical rates, have been calculated using population estimates based on the 2011 Census. All Indigenous rates in this report are calculated using the Indigenous population estimates and projections, based on the 2011 Census.

Population rates

Crude rates are calculated using the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated resident population (ERP) at the start of the range (for example, rates for 2011–12 were calculated using the ERP at 30 June 2011). Rates for 2015–16 data were calculated using the preliminary ERP at 30 June 2015.

Age-standardised rates

Population rates were adjusted (standardised) for age to enhance the comparison between populations over time that have different age structures. Specifically, direct standardisation has been used where age-specific rates are applied to a standard population (the ERP as at 30 June 2001, unless otherwise specified). This effectively removes the influence of age structure on the calculated rate and is referred to as the age-standardised rate. In this publication direct age-standardisation has been used to compare Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians (AIHW 2011).

Rate ratio

Rate ratios are mainly used to compare Indigenous and non-Indigenous rates and provide a measure of the level of Indigenous over-representation. A rate ratio is calculated by dividing the client rate for Indigenous Australian by the client rate for non-Indigenous Australians.

Average annual rates of change

The average annual rates of change or growth rates have been calculated as geometric rates:

Average rate of change = ((Pn/Po)^(1/n) –1) x 100

where:

Pn= value in the later time period

Po= value in the earlier time period

n = number of years between the 2 time periods.

Glossary: Specialist Homelessness Services

Concept Definition

Accommodation services

Accommodation services include short-term or emergency accommodation, medium-term/transitional housing, assistance to obtain long term housing, assistance to sustain tenancy or prevent tenancy failure or eviction and assistance to prevent foreclosures or for mortgage arrears.

At risk of homelessness

A person is described as at risk of homelessness if they are at risk of losing their accommodation or they are experiencing one or more of a range of factors or triggers that can contribute to homelessness.

Risk factors include:

  • financial stress (including due to loss of income, low income, gambling, change of family circumstances)
  • housing affordability stress and housing crisis (pending evictions/foreclosures, rental and/or mortgage arrears)
  • inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions, including accommodation that is unsafe, unsuitable or overcrowded
  • previous accommodation ended
  • relationship/family breakdown
  • child abuse, neglect or environments where children are at risk
  • sexual abuse
  • domestic/family violence
  • non-family violence
  • mental health issues and other health problems
  • problematic alcohol, drug or substance use
  • employment difficulties and unemployment
  • problematic gambling
  • transitions from custodial and care arrangements, including out-of-home care,
  • independent living arrangements for children aged under 18, health and mental health
  • facilities/programs, juvenile/youth justice and correctional facilities
  • discrimination, including racial discrimination (e.g. Aboriginal people in the urban rental market)
  • disengagement with school or other education and training
  • involvement in, or exposure to, criminal activities
  • antisocial behaviour
  • lack of family and/or community support
  • staying in a boarding house for 12 weeks or more without security of tenure.
  • The measurement of this concept in the SHSC is defined in the Data derivation section.

Client

A Specialist homelessness agency client is a person who receives a specialist homelessness service. A client can be of any age. Children are also clients if they receive a service from a specialist homelessness agency. To be a client the person must directly receive a service and not just be a beneficiary of a service. Children who present with an adult and receive a service are considered to be a client. Children of a client or other household members who present but do not directly receive a service are not considered to be clients.

Client on a care and protection order

A client is indentified as being on a care and protection order if they are aged under 18 and provided any of the following information in any support period (any month within the support period) during the reporting period (either the week before, at the beginning of the support period or during support).

They reported that they are on a care and protection order and that they had the following care arrangements:

  • residential care
  • family group home
  • relatives/kin/friends who are reimbursed
  • foster care
  • other home-based care (reimbursed)
  • relatives/kin/friends who are not reimbursed
  • independent living
  • other living arrangements
  • parents; or

They have reported ‘Transition from foster care/child safety residential placements’ as a reason for seeking assistance, or main reason for seeking assistance.

Client with a current mental health issue

SHS clients with a current mental health issue are identified as such if they have provided any of the following information:

  • they indicated that at the beginning of a support period they were receiving services or assistance for their mental health issues or had in the last 12 months
  • their formal referral source to the specialist homelessness agency was a mental health service
  • they reported ‘mental health issues’ as a reason for seeking assistance
  • their dwelling type either a week before presenting to an agency, or when presenting to an agency, was as a psychiatric hospital or unit
  • they had been in a psychiatric hospital or unit in the last 12 months
  • at some stage during their support period, a need was identified for psychological services, psychiatric services or mental health services.

Client with disability

SHS clients with disability are identified as such if at any time they have provided the following information:

  • they ‘always/sometimes need help or supervision’ with self-care, mobility or communication for any support period during the reporting period.

The definition used to identify clients with disability (for the purposes of analyses for this report) is similar to that used for ABS Census questions that measure ‘core activity need for assistance’. The Census questions are a simplified version of the comprehensive questions used in the ABS Survey of Disability and Carers (SDAC). The Census’s simplified questions are conceptually comparable with ‘severe or profound core activity limitation’ in the SDAC.

The ABS Census aims to identify people who need assistance in their day-to-day lives with any or all of the following core activities: self-care, mobility or communication (ABS 2012b). The SHSC takes a similar approach in gathering information from clients of specialist homelessness services about disability.

To align with the ABS definition of ‘core activity need for assistance’, clients who did not report needing assistance (such as ‘have difficulty but don’t need help/supervision’ or ‘don’t have difficulty, but use aids/equipment’) with self-care, mobility or communication are not included as clients needing assistance with disability for SHS analyses.

Disability measurement in the SHSC

Measuring disability in the SHSC.

A long-term health condition is one that has lasted, or is expected to last, 6 months or more. Examples of long-term health conditions that might restrict everyday activities include severe asthma, epilepsy, mental health conditions, hearing loss, arthritis, autism, kidney disease, chronic pain, speech impediment and stroke.

Disability is a general term that covers:

  • impairments in body structures or functions (for example, loss or abnormality of a body part)
  • limitations in everyday activities (such as difficulty bathing or managing daily routines)
  • restrictions in participation in life situations (such as needing special arrangements to attend work).


The SHSC collects information on whether and to what extent a long-term health condition or disability restricts clients’ everyday activities across the following 3 life areas:

  • Self-care—the client needs help/supervision with self-care (e.g. showering or bathing, dressing or undressing, using the toilet or eating food)
  • Mobility—the client needs help/supervision with mobility (e.g. moving around the house, moving around outside the home, or getting into or out of a chair)
  • Communication—the client needs help/supervision with communication (e.g. understanding or being understood by other people, including people they know).

General services

General services include:

  • family/relationship assistance
  • assistance for incest/sexual assault
  • legal information
  • material aid/brokerage
  • financial information
  • educational assistance
  • training assistance
  • employment assistance
  • assistance to obtain/maintain government allowances
  • assertive outreach
  • child care
  • assistance for trauma
  • assistance for challenging social/behavioural problems
  • living skills/personal development
  • court support
  • advice/information
  • retrieval/storage/removal of personal belongings
  • advocacy/liaison on behalf of client
  • school liaison
  • structured play/skills development
  • child contact and residence arrangements
  • meals
  • laundry/shower facilities
  • recreation
  • transport and
  • other basic assistance.

Homelessness

For the purpose of the SHSC a person is defined as homeless if they are living in either:

  • non-conventional accommodation or ‘sleeping rough’, or
  • short-term or emergency accommodation due to a lack of other options.

Non-conventional accommodation (primary homeless) is defined as:

  • living on the streets
  • sleeping in parks
  • squatting
  • staying in cars or railway carriages
  • living in improvised dwellings
  • living in the long grass.

This definition aligns closely with the cultural definition of primary homelessness.

Short-term or emergency accommodation (secondary homeless) includes:

  • refuges
  • crisis shelters
  • couch surfing
  • living temporarily with friends and relatives
  • insecure accommodation on a short-term basis
  • emergency accommodation arranged by a specialist homelessness agency (for example, in hotels, motels and so forth).

This definition aligns closely with the cultural definition of secondary homelessness.

The measurement of Homelessness in the SHSC is defined in the Data derivation section.

The ABS definition of homelessness for estimates derived from the Census of Population and Housing can be found in ABS catalogue 2049.0 [5].

Other support services

Other support services refer to the assistance, other than accommodation services, provided to a client. They include domestic/family violence services, mental health services, family/relationship assistance, disability services, drug/alcohol counselling, legal/financial services, immigration/cultural services, other specialist services and general assistance and support.

Specialist homelessness agency

A specialist homelessness agency is an organisation which receives government funding to deliver specialist homelessness services to a client. These can be either not-for-profit and for profit agencies.

Specialist homelessness service(s)

Specialist homelessness service(s) is assistance provided by a specialist homelessness agency to a client aimed at responding to or preventing homelessness. The specialist homelessness services in scope for this collection include accommodation provision, assistance to sustain housing, domestic/family violence services, mental health services, family/relationship assistance, disability services, drug/alcohol counselling, legal/financial services, immigration/cultural services, other specialist services and general assistance and support.

Stable housing

Stable housing, for the purpose of the SHSC, refers to clients ending support in public or community housing (renter or rent free), private or other housing (renter, rent free or owner), or Institutional settings.

Abbreviations

ABS

Australian Bureau of Statistics

AHURI

Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute

AIHW

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

CPO

Care and Protection Order

DSS

Department of Social Services

NAHA

National Affordable Housing Agreement

NDIS

National Disability Insurance Scheme

NPAH

National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness

SDAC

Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers

SHS

Specialist Homelessness Services

SHSC

Specialist Homelessness Services Collection

SLK

statistical linkage key

Symbols

-

nil or rounded to zero

. .

not applicable

n.a.

not available

n.p.

not publishable because of small numbers, confidentiality or other concerns about the quality of the data


References

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2016. Youth justice in Australia 2014–15. AIHW bulletin no. 133. Cat. no. AUS 198. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2012a. Census of population and housing: estimating homelessness, 2011. ABS cat no. 2049.0. Canberra: ABS.
  3. ABS 2012b. Census data quality statement: core activity need for assistance. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 17 August 2016.
  4. ABS 2012c. The ASGC remoteness structure. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 17 August 2016.
  5. ABS 2012d. Information paper: a statistical definition of homelessness, 2012. ABS cat. No. 4922.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 17 August 2016.
  6. AIHW 2011. Principles on the use of direct age-standardisation in administrative data collections: for measuring the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Data linkage series. Cat. no. CSI 12. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 17 August 2016.