Financial difficulty is the single most common reason for seeking assistance with homelessness, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
In order to understand more about homelessness in Australia, the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments commissioned the AIHW to look at Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) clients who had low or no income.
The report, Income status of homeless people in SAAP 1999-2001, focuses on SAAP clients who had low incomes or no income, and reported financial difficulty as an important reason for seeking assistance from one of the 1,200 SAAP agencies in Australia.
'Overall, 39% of SAAP clients reported that financial difficulty was a reason for seeking help,' said report co-author Gloria Jackson.
'The majority of those people had some income, usually government pensions or benefits-for example, 26% received the Newstart Allowance, and a further 19% the Disability Support Pension.
'However, 12,000 out of 144,000 clients (about 8%) had no income at all before SAAP support-which we initially found surprising.
'The study shows there are three main reasons why people stated they had no income.' Ms Jackson said.
'Some were refused a benefit or ineligible (35%), others were not receiving benefits because they had not applied (30%), and some had applied or were waiting for benefits (26%). Breaching Centrelink requirements was given as a reason for no income in 7% of cases.'
Young people, people born in non-English-speaking countries, and women escaping domestic violence are notably among those clients on no income.
Very young people (under 15) make up only a small proportion of SAAP clients, but when they do present to a SAAP agency they are very likely to have no income (85% of all cases). People aged 15-24 make up a significant proportion of SAAP clients, and are also more likely than other age-groups to have no income (30% of cases aged 15-17, and 7% of cases aged 18-24).
Generally, overseas-born people are somewhat less likely than other groups to seek assistance from SAAP agencies. However, they made up almost a third of the cases with no income among those who cited financial difficulty as a reason for seeking assistance.
Clients reported no income in over 12% of support periods involving domestic violence.
Apart from financial difficulty, other common reasons for clients to seek assistance were associated with family conflict (eg. domestic violence) and the availability of appropriate housing (e.g. eviction).