Specialist Homelessness Services report on homelessness

Our challenge

Providing timely data during COVID-19 lockdowns

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, there were concerns about the impact of lockdowns on the housing security of Australians. There was a subsequent need for rapid data on people seeking and receiving Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS).

SHS Collection data were usually published on an annual basis and changes to the collection typically took around a year to plan, negotiate, build and implement. Quicker access to data was necessary to monitor the unprecedented implications of the lockdowns on housing security.

Our response

Supplying data more frequently

The AIHW receives and aggregates data from around 1,600 specialist homelessness services agencies across Australia on the clients who access their support. This includes information on the breakdown of specific target groups, the reasons clients sought assistance, homelessness status, clients receiving financial support for short-term accommodation and nights in shortterm accommodation.

In early March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was added to the data collection as a reason for individuals seeking assistance from specialist homelessness services. These data help capture the direct and indirect implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to housing. implementing this involved making changes to the client management system and instructional material for SHS agencies. A weekly supply of data to government stakeholders began on 5 April 2020 and was progressively adapted into a monthly data supply as the needs of stakeholders became clearer.

The usefulness of the monthly data prompted development of a new, publicly released SHS report. In consultation with stakeholders, work began on defining the scope of data and developing an efficient updating process that would support the timely release of data.

Agreement was reached that client-level aggregate data by month, state, age, sex, homelessness status, specific vulnerabilities, reason for seeking assistance, financial support provided and nights of accommodation provided would be beneficial.

The inaugural report was released on 23 September 2020. This report is now updated each quarter within 2 weeks of the data supply cut-off by agencies.

Our results

Comprehensive picture of homelessness services support needs

The implementation of new COVID-19-related data items assisted with the monitoring of homelessness services support needs in the early stages of the pandemic in Australia. 

The success of this ongoing report showcases the AIHW’s capacity to adapt to stakeholder needs and deliver timely data.