Drug use and psychiatric illness send vulnerable segments of homeless to seek support

A report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), shows that in 2004-05, over 19,000 Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) clients (or about 19%) reported a substance use problem, and nearly 12,000 (or about 12%) reported a mental health problem.

Ms Felicity Murdoch of the Institute's Supported Accommodation and Crisis Services Unit said the most common reason people with substance use problems sought help from the program was due directly to their drug, alcohol or substance use (30%).

'The most common reasons given by those seeking support who had a mental health problem were psychiatric illness (19%) and domestic violence (14%),' she said.

According to the report, Homeless SAAP clients with mental health and substance use problems 2004-05, almost all of the services requested by clients with a mental health or substance use problem were able to be provided directly by a SAAP agency.

'However, these clients were more likely than clients without these problems to have service requests remaining unmet,' Ms Murdoch said.

'This could be partly explained by the fact that these clients are more likely to request specialist services than clients without substance use or mental health problems and that these clients were also more likely to be referred on for these services,' she said.

Data on the individual support services provided to these clients indicate that agencies are better equipped to assist clients with substance use problems than those with mental health problems.

According to the report, the majority of clients with a mental health (76%) or substance use (73%) problem were born in Australia and did not identify as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Other findings indicate that clients with a mental health or substance use problem:

  • Were slightly more likely than other clients to have housing or accommodation services provided directly by a SAAP agency.
  • Were most often not in the labour force, and not actively seeking employment.
  • Relied on the disability support pension as their main source of income.
  • Were supported for longer periods than clients without these problems.

The Supported Accommodation Assistance Program is the major government response to homelessness and statistics on the program are regularly reported by the AIHW.

15 March 2007

Further information: Ms Felicity Murdoch, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1018, mob. 0407 915 851

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.