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A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that the proportion of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients who had a current mental health issue rose to 1 in 4 in 2014–15, while domestic and family violence continues to be the most common reason for seeking homelessness support.

Overall, 255,500 people were assisted by specialist homelessness agencies across Australia in 2014–15, receiving nearly 20 million days of support and about 6.6 million nights of accommodation.

The report, Specialist homelessness services 2014–15, shows that clients with a current mental health issue are the fastest growing client group, growing at an average rate of 12% each year since 2011–12.

'In 2014–15, over 63,000—or 25% of all clients—had a current mental health issue, up from about 44,800—or 19%—in 2011–12,' said AIHW spokesperson Geoff Neideck.

In general, clients with a current mental health issue required longer periods of support, compared with the broader SHS population.

Over one-third of clients required support due to domestic and family violence—in 2014–15 this was 92,000 people, including 31,000 children (under 18 years of age) and 56,000 women (18 years and over).

 'Domestic violence continues to be a significant issue for the clients of homelessness services and their children,' Mr Neideck said.

'Earlier this week, the AIHW released separate analysis on domestic violence clients supported by homelessness services over the past 3 years. It showed that those clients experiencing domestic violence require more support than other clients—on average 136 days of support compared with 92 days for other clients. The report also found that these clients were more likely to seek short term accommodation and more likely to have those requests met (82% compared with 61% for other clients).'

Indigenous clients continue to be over-represented among homelessness service users. One in 4 SHS clients were Indigenous, despite Indigenous Australians representing just 1 in 33 of the Australian population.

'The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous rates of service use has been widening—in 2014–15, Indigenous clients used specialist homelessness services at a rate of 8.7 times that of non-Indigenous clients, up from 7.8 times in 2011–12,' Mr Neideck said.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 11 December

Further information: Mr Geoff Neideck, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1163, mob. 0439 878 933

Full publications:

Specialist homelessness services 2014–15 (web report)

Domestic and family violence and homelessness 2011–12 to 2013–14 (key findings) (web report)