Homelessness services

Almost 1 in 3

(30% or 6,700) SHS clients with disability have severe or profound disability

Half

(51% or 8,100) of SHS clients with disability are provided with accommodation when they need it

1 in 6

(16% or 3,700) SHS clients with disability seek support because of domestic or family violence

Introduction

Safe, secure housing is fundamental to people’s health and wellbeing. Access to affordable housing is a key issue for everyone, particularly those on low incomes. A lack of affordable housing puts households at an increased risk of experiencing housing stress and can affect their health, education and employment and place them at risk of homelessness (AIHW 2020).

Anyone can be affected by homelessness. However, some groups, such as people with disability, may face additional risk factors, such as limited engagement with the labour market, lack of social support and low income (AIHW 2020). These factors increase their likelihood of experiencing homelessness, or present additional barriers to exiting homelessness (see Employment and Income and finance for more information on these life areas).

People with disability may also have specific accommodation and support needs beyond those of the general population.

People with disability who are homeless or at risk of homelessness can use specialist homelessness services (SHS). These services are funded by governments to:

  • provide accommodation support to people in need
  • support at-risk clients to remain housed
  • provide services intended to support stable living conditions, such as counselling, employment or financial services.

Specialist Homelessness Services Collection

Data in this section are sourced from the AIHW’s Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC) including data up to 2019–20. Data about homelessness services accessed by people with disability in 2020–21 have recently been released in Specialist homelessness services annual report 2020–21. Data in this People with disability report may be updated in the future to be brought in line with the specialist homelessness services report.

The SHSC comprises a Client Collection and an Unassisted Persons Collection. Disability status is not collected in the Unassisted Persons Collection.

The Client Collection captures information on everyone who receives service from an SHS agency. Information is collected at:

  • the start of a support period
  • each month within the support period
  • the end of a support period.

The SHSC has included a shortened version of the AIHW’s standardised disability flag since 2013–14. All clients are asked the SHSC disability questions, which are based on limitation with core activities due to a long-term health condition or disability.

Core activities are:

  • self-care – for example, showering or bathing, dressing or undressing, toileting, eating food
  • Mobility – for example, moving around in or outside the house, getting in or out of a chair
  • Communication – for example, understanding or being understood by people, including people they know.

Clients identified as having disability are those who:

  • always or sometimes require assistance with one or more core activities
  • have difficulty but no need for assistance with one or more core activities
  • have no difficulty but use aids or equipment for core activities.

In this section, clients who always or sometimes need assistance with core activities are referred to as ‘clients with severe or profound disability’.

Clients who have disability but no core activity limitation are not identified as having disability in the collection. This includes the small proportion of clients not identified as having disability, but who need disability services (0.9% or 2,300).

Response rates to the disability flag are relatively low. For example, the number of clients with invalid responses to the flag in 2019–20, while small compared with total clients, was larger than the number of clients with disability (25,100 compared with 22,800) (AIHW 2020).

Differences in the interpretation of disability questions for young children mean data may not be comparable across age groups. For this reason, children under the age of 9 were excluded from some analyses.

See the SHSC Data Quality Statement and SHSC disability flag for more information.


Demographics

In 2019–20, about 290,500 clients received support from specialist homelessness services. Of SHS clients with known disability status, 8.6% (or 22,800) have disability. Around one-third (30% or 6,700) of clients with disability have severe or profound disability (or 2.5% of all SHS clients with known disability status).

Sex

Clients with disability (54% or 12,200) are less likely to be female than clients without disability (60% or 146,100 with known disability status) (Figure HOMELESSNESS.1).

Figure HOMELESSNESS.1: Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients, by disability status, age group and sex, 2019–20

Column chart showing the sex and age of clients of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS), with and without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by sex, by age group 10–14, 15–17, 18–24, 25–34, 35–44, 45–54, 55–64, or 65 and over, and by disability status. The chart shows a higher proportion of SHS clients with disability are aged 55–64 (14%) than those without disability (5.7%) (for clients with known disability status aged 10 and over).

Disability is less common in female clients than male clients – 7.7% have disability, compared with 9.8% (with known disability status) (Table HOMELESSNESS.1).

Table HOMELESSNESS.1: Prevalence of disability in SHS clients for whom disability status is known(a), by sex, 2019–20 (%)

Disability status

Males

Females

Total

With disability

9.8

7.7

8.6

          Severe or profound disability

3.2

2.1

2.5

          Other disability

6.7

5.6

6.0

Without disability

90.2

92.3

91.4

Total

100.0

100.0

100.0

(a) Excluding those whose disability status is recorded as missing or unknown. The disability status of 25,100 SHS clients (or 8.6% of all SHS clients) was recorded as missing or unknown in 2019–20.

Notes:

1. ‘With disability’ includes only clients who have core activity limitations.

2. ‘Without disability’ includes clients who have disability but no core activity limitation.

Source: SHSC 2019–20; see also Table SHSC1.

Age

Clients with disability are more likely to be older than clients without disability. One in 11 (9.1% or 2,100) clients with disability are aged 65 or over, compared with 1 in 43 (2.3% or 5,600) clients without disability (with known disability status) (Figure HOMELESSNESS.1).

Disability is more common in older clients. More than a quarter (27%) clients aged 65 and over have disability, compared with around:

  • 1 in 11 (9.1% or 18,000) aged 15–64
  • 1 in 29 (3.5% or 590) aged 10–14 (Table HOMELESSNESS.2).
Table HOMELESSNESS.2: Prevalence of disability in SHS clients for whom disability status is known(a), by age group, 2019–20 (%)

Age group

Severe or profound disability

Other disability

All with disability

Without disability

Total

10–14

1.6

1.8

3.5

96.5

100.0

15–17

1.4

3.2

4.6

95.4

100.0

18–24

1.6

4.4

6.0

94.0

100.0

25–34

1.6

5.2

6.8

93.2

100.0

35–44

2.1

7.1

9.2

90.8

100.0

45–54

3.2

10.4

13.6

86.4

100.0

55–64

4.9

15.3

20.2

79.8

100.0

65 and over

6.9

20.2

27.1

72.9

100.0

10 and over

2.3

7.0

9.3

90.7

100.0

(a) Excluding those whose disability status is recorded as missing or unknown. The disability status of 19,800 SHS clients aged 10 and over (or 8.2% of all SHS clients aged 10 and over) was recorded as missing or unknown in 2019–20.

Notes:

1. ‘With disability’ includes only clients who have core activity limitations.

2. ‘Without disability’ includes clients who have disability but no core activity limitation.

3. Disability status is collected for all ages but data relating to children aged 0–9 should be interpreted with caution. The numbers presented here exclude children aged 0–9.

Source: SHSC 2019–20; see also Table SHSC3.

Indigenous status

About 1 in 5 (21% or 4,600) clients with disability are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, compared with more than 1 in 4 (28% or 63,000) clients without disability (with known disability and Indigenous status).

Indigenous clients (6.8% or 4,600) are less likely to have disability than non-Indigenous clients (9.4% or 17,100). However, Indigenous clients with disability are more likely to have severe or profound disability (34% or 1,600) than non-Indigenous clients with disability (28% or 4,800).


Beginning of support

Male SHS clients with disability (53% or 5,400) are more likely than female clients (42% or 4,900) to be homeless when they started receiving support (for those with known disability and housing status). A similar trend is evident in clients without disability (Figure HOMELESSNESS.2).

What is housing status?

All clients of specialist homelessness services are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. 'Homeless' status is derived for a client based on the client's housing circumstances at the beginning of their first support period. All other clients not meeting these criteria are considered to be at risk of homelessness (excluding clients who did not provide sufficient information to make this assessment). Housing circumstances are determined based on the client's type of residence, tenure, and conditions of occupancy.

Homeless includes:

  • having no shelter or improvised / inadequate dwelling
  • staying in short-term, temporary accommodation
  • being a couch surfer or having no tenure in a house, townhouse or flat.

At risk of homelessness includes:

  • renting or living rent free in public or community housing
  • renting, living rent free or owning in private or other housing
  • residing in institutional settings.

Clients with disability (47% or 10,000) are slightly more likely than those without disability (43% or 99,000 for those with known disability status) to be homeless, rather than at risk of homelessness, when they started receiving support (Figure HOMELESSNESS.2).

Figure HOMELESSNESS.2: Homelessness at the beginning of support for Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients, by disability status and sex, 2019–20

Column chart showing whether males and females, with and without disability, are homeless or not at the beginning of support from Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS). The reader can select to display the chart by disability status. The chart shows males with other disability status are more likely (55%) to be homeless at the beginning of support than females (42%) (for clients with known disability status).

Reasons for seeking assistance

The most common main reason clients with disability seek support relate to accommodation (42% or 9,400), followed by interpersonal relationships (22% or 5,000) (for SHS clients with known disability status and main reason for support) (Table HOMELESSNESS.3).

Reasons for seeking assistance

The SHSC collects information about the client’s reasons for seeking assistance at the start of support:

  • the main reason for seeking support
  • all reasons for seeking support.

This information is as reported by the client, not the agency worker. 

Table HOMELESSNESS.3: SHS clients, selected main reason for seeking support, by disability status(a), 2019–20 (%)

Main reason

With disability

Without disability

Accommodation

41.7

33.5

          Housing crisis

22.2

18.0

          Inadequate/inappropriate dwelling conditions

14.8

11.2

          Previous accommodation ended

4.7

4.3

Interpersonal relationships

22.1

34.1

          Domestic/family violence

16.5

27.2

          Relationship/family breakdown

3.6

4.7

Financial

18.6

18.7

          Financial difficulties

11.6

11.5

          Housing affordability stress

6.7

6.7

Health

6.8

2.6

          Mental health issues

3.2

1.1

          Medical issues

2.6

0.8

(a) Excluding those whose disability status is recorded as missing or unknown.

Notes:

1. Most common main reasons for seeking support (excluding ‘not stated’) among SHS clients.

2. ‘With disability’ includes only clients who have core activity limitations.

3. ‘Without disability’ includes clients who have disability but no core activity limitation.

Source: SHSC 2019–20; see also Table SHSC5.

The main reasons clients seek support vary between those with and without disability (Table HOMELESSNESS.3). For example, clients with disability are more likely to report housing crisis as a main reason for seeking support and less likely to report domestic or family violence (Table HOMELESSNESS.3).

The main reasons that clients with disability seek support also vary depending on their housing situation at the beginning of support (Table HOMELESSNESS.4). For example (for SHS clients with known disability status and main reason for support):

  • more than half (52% or 5,400) of clients with disability who are homeless when they begin support cite accommodation-related reasons as their main reason for seeking support, compared with one-third (33% or 3,900) of those who begin support at risk of homelessness
  • interpersonal relationship and financial issues are more commonly identified by clients with disability who begin support at risk of homelessness than those who begin support homeless.
Table HOMELESSNESS.4: SHS clients with disability(a), main reason for seeking support, by housing status at first report(b), 2019–20 (%)

Main reason

Homeless at first report

At risk at first report

Accommodation

52.0

33.3

          Housing crisis

26.0

19.3

          Inadequate/inappropriate dwelling conditions

19.8

10.6

          Previous accommodation ended

6.2

3.4

Interpersonal relationships

19.1

23.6

          Domestic/family violence

12.7

18.7

          Relationship/family breakdown

4.4

2.8

Financial

12.6

24.2

          Financial difficulties

7.1

15.7

          Housing affordability stress

5.2

8.2

Health

6.5

7.3

          Mental health issues

3.0

3.3

          Medical issues

2.2

3.0

(a) ‘With disability’ includes only clients who have core activity limitations.

(b) Excludes clients for whom homelessness status at first report is unknown.

Note: Most common main reasons for seeking support (excluding ‘not stated’) among SHS clients with disability.

Source: SHSC 2019–20; see also Table SHSC6.


During support

Clients with disability generally have a higher and more complex need for support than clients without disability. This is reflected in their higher (for SHS clients with known disability status):

  • average number of support periods received – 2.6 compared with 1.7
  • median length of support – 74 days compared with 45
  • average number of distinct services needed – 13.9 compared with 9.2.

Support need and provision

Information on services and assistance needed, provided and referred is collected by SHS agencies during the collection period.

‘Services needed’ refers to services or assistance the SHS agency worker assesses the client needs, regardless of whether the client accepts this or agrees to participate in the support service.

‘Services provided’ refer to services or assistance provided directly by the SHS agency.

‘Services referred’ refer to where a client is referred to another service provider who accepts the client for an appointment or interview. It does not capture whether a client kept the appointment or whether the appointment led to the client receiving a service.

Type of support needed

Accommodation is the most needed type of service for clients with (70% or 15,800) and without (61% or 147,000) disability (for SHS clients with known disability status). Clients with disability, however, generally have a higher need for all types of accommodation:

  • 53% (or 12,100) need long-term housing, compared with 39% (or 95,500)
  • 41% (or 9,300) need medium-term or transitional housing, compared with 30% (or 72,300)
  • 46% (or 10,600) need short-term or emergency accommodation, compared with 40% (or 97,900).

Clients with disability are also more likely than those without disability to need most other types of assistance, with the exception of assistance for domestic and/or family violence, culturally specific services and child care.

Unmet need for support

Not all clients who need support receive it directly or have all their needs met (though they may have a referral arranged – for data on referrals, see Homelessness services (XLSX, 175KB) data tables.

Of clients with disability (where disability status is known):

  • 32% (or 7,200) had all support needs met directly, compared with 43% (or 103,000) without disability
  • 66% (or 14,900) had some met, compared with 54% (or 130,000)
  • 2.8% (or 640) had none met, compared with 3.8% (9,100).

Some types of support are more likely to be provided directly when needed than others. For example, of SHS clients with known disability status:

  • about half (51% or 8,100) of clients with disability who needed accommodation were provided it directly and 19% (or 3,000) were referred elsewhere
  • 4 in 10 (39% or 510) clients with disability who needed disability services received them directly and 22% (or 290) were referred
  • about half (47% or 2,000) of clients with disability who needed services related to mental health received them directly and 19% (or 790) were referred (Figure HOMELESSNESS.3).

Clients with disability (51% or 8,100) are about as likely as clients without disability (51% or 75,500) to receive the accommodation services they need, and slightly more likely to receive long-term housing (4.9% or 590 compared with 3.4% or 3,300) (for SHS clients with known disability status) when they need it.

When they need them, clients with disability are also more likely to receive:

  • mental health services – 47% (or 2,000) compared with 43% (or 9,900)
  • drug and/or alcohol services – 46% (or 750) compared with 41% (or 3,600).

When they need them, clients with disability are less likely to receive:

  • immigration and/or cultural services – 78% (or 1,300) compared with 86% (or 16,600)
  • family services – 60% (or 1,200) compared with 63% (or 14,300)
  • legal and/or financial – 42% (or 920) compared with 44% (or 7,600)
  • other specialist (including health and medical services) – 66% (or 4,300) compared with 70% (or 34,100).

Clients with disability and without disability have similar rates of direct service provision for:

  • assistance to sustain housing tenure – 83% (or 8,400) compared with 82% (or 66,200)
  • general (including employment and training assistance) – 99% (or 21,500) compared with 98% (or 225,000).

Figure HOMELESSNESS.3: Services provided when needed during support for Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients, by disability status, 2019–20

Bar chart showing Specialist Homelessness Services provided when needed to clients with and without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by whether the client has disability or not. The chart shows that 51% of people with disability were provided accommodation services when needed. Those who needed short-term or emergency accommodation were more likely to receive the service (59%) than those who needed long-term housing (4.9%).


End of support

Housing outcomes for clients with disability generally improve following support, with fewer being homeless when they leave support.

Four in 10 (42% or 6,600) clients with disability are homeless when they start support, compared with 3 in 10 (31% or 4,800) at the end of support (for SHS clients with known disability status and closed support period) (Figure HOMELESSNESS.4).  

Figure HOMELESSNESS.4: Homelessness status at the beginning of support and end of support for Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients with closed support periods, by disability status, 2019–20

Stacked column chart showing the housing status at the beginning and end of support for clients of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS), with and without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by disability status. The chart shows people with disability are less likely (31%) to be homeless at the end of SHS support than at the beginning of support (42%) (for clients with known disability status and closed support periods).

Visualisation not available for printing

The homelessness status at the end of support varies by the housing situation at the start of support. Clients with disability who begin support at risk of homelessness are much more likely to end support housed (82% or 6,500) than those who begin support homeless (36% or 2,400) (for SHS clients with known disability and closed support period).

This further varies by the living situation at the start of support (Figure HOMELESSNESS.5). Of clients with disability who begin support (for SHS clients with known disability and closed support period):

  • at risk of homelessness, those living in
    • institutional settings are the least likely to be housed following support (62% or 500)
    • public or community housing are the most likely to be housed following support (89% or 2,000)
  • homeless, those living
    • with no shelter or in an improvised or inadequate dwelling are the least likely to be housed following support (28% or 540)
    • in short-term temporary accommodation are as likely to be housed following support (39% or 990) as those who are couch surfing or have no tenure (39% or 840).

Clients with disability (59% or 9,200) are as likely as clients without disability (59% or 109,000) to end support housed, although there are some differences in their living situations at the end of support (for SHS clients with known disability and closed support period). For example, clients with disability are:

  • more likely than clients without to exit support to public or community housing (22% or 3,400 compared with 18% or 32,900)
  • less likely to exit to private or other housing (as a renter, rent free or owner) (33% or 5,100 compared with 39% or 71,900).

Figure HOMELESSNESS.5: Housing status at the beginning of support and end of support for Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients with closed support periods, by disability status, 2019–20

Diagram showing the flow of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients between housing situations, for clients with and without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by disability status. The chart shows people with disability are less likely to be living in private or other housing at the end of SHS support (33%) than people without disability (39%).

Changes over time

Between 2013–14 and 2019–20, there have been improvements in how likely homeless people with disability are to be housed following support (Table HOMELESSNESS.5). There was little change for those who began support when at risk of homelessness (Table HOMELESSNESS.6).

Table HOMELESSNESS.5: SHS clients with disability(a) who began support homeless, by housing situation at end of support, 2013–14 to 2019–20 (%)

Situation at end of support

2013–14

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

At risk of homelessness

35.5

39.8

41.3

41.2

42.9

41.1

40.5

Homeless

64.5

60.2

58.7

58.8

57.1

58.9

59.5

(a) ‘With disability’ includes only clients who have core activity limitations.

Notes:

1. The SHSC classifies clients as ‘homeless’ if they are living with no shelter or an improvised or inadequate dwelling, in short-term temporary accommodation, or in a house, townhouse or flat with relatives (rent free). It classifies clients as ‘housed’ if they are living in public or community housing (renter or rent free), private or other housing (renter or rent free), or in institutional settings.

2. Proportions include only clients with closed support and for whom housing status is known at first report and at end of support.

3. Data for 2013–14 to 2016–17 have been adjusted for non-response. Due to improvements in the rates of agency participation and SLK validity, data from 2017–18 are not weighted. The removal of weighting does not constitute a break in time series and weighted data from 2013–14 to 2016–17 are comparable with unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards.

Source: SHSC 2019–20; see also Table SHSC14.

Table HOMELESSNESS.6: SHS clients with disability(a) who began support at risk of homelessness, by housing situation at the end of support, 2013–14 to 2019–20 (%)

Situation at end of support

2013–14

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

At risk of homelessness

86.0

86.1

86.3

86.5

87.3

87.5

86.4

Homeless

14.0

13.9

13.7

13.5

12.7

12.5

13.6

(a) ‘With disability’ includes only clients who have core activity limitations.

Notes:

1. The SHSC classifies clients as ‘homeless’ if they are living with no shelter or an improvised or inadequate dwelling, in short-term temporary accommodation, or in a house, townhouse or flat with relatives (rent free). It classifies clients as ‘housed’ who are living in public or community housing (renter or rent free), private or other housing (renter or rent free), or in institutional settings.

2. Proportions include only clients with closed support and for whom housing status is known at first report and at end of support.

3. Data for 2013–14 to 2016–17 have been adjusted for non-response. Due to improvements in the rates of agency participation and SLK validity, data from 2017–18 are not weighted. The removal of weighting does not constitute a break in time series and weighted data from 2015–16 to 2016–17 are comparable with unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards.

Source: SHSC 2019–20; see also Table SHSC14.


Risk factors

Disability itself is considered one of several risk factors for experiencing homelessness. However, clients with disability are also more likely than clients without disability to have one or more other risk factors that increase their likelihood of experiencing homelessness, or that provide additional barriers to exiting homelessness, such as (for SHS clients aged 10 and over with known disability status):

  • repeat homelessness – 5.8% (or 1,200) compared with 2.8% (or 5,700)
  • mental health issues – 64% (or 13,300) compared with 36% (or 72,600)
  • drug or alcohol misuse – 21% (or 4,300) compared with 12% (or 23,400)
  • beginning support homeless – 46% (or 9,500) compared with 41% (or 82,900).

Clients with disability are less likely than clients without disability to be identified as having experienced domestic and family violence (32% or 6,500 compared with 37% or 74,400).

What is repeat homelessness?

Clients who have transitioned from being homeless to being housed and back to being homeless again within a financial year are considered to have experienced ‘repeat homelessness’.

The SHSC captures only people who use SHS services. There may be people SHS services have helped into housing who became homeless again but who did not return to SHS services.

What are mental health issues?

The SHSC identifies a client as having a mental health issue if they are aged 10 or over and have provided any of the following information in any support period during the reporting period:

  • they have reported ‘Mental health issues’ as a reason for seeking assistance, or main reason for seeking assistance
  • at some stage during their support period, a need was identified for psychological services, psychiatric services, or mental health services (as determined by a need for such services being recorded for the client, a relevant service being provided to the client and/or the client being referred for such a service)
  • their formal referral source to the specialist homelessness agency was a mental health service
  • they are currently receiving services or assistance for their mental health issues or have in the last 12 months
  • they have been in a psychiatric hospital or unit in the last 12 months
  • their dwelling type either a week before presenting to an agency, or when presenting to an agency, was a psychiatric hospital or unit.

Clients with disability who have a mental health condition may face additional challenges. Compared with other clients with disability (for SHS clients with known disability status), those aged 10 and over who have a mental health issue are more likely to be identified as having:

  • engaged in drug or alcohol misuse – 29% (or 3,800) compared with 7.1% (or 530)
  • experienced domestic and family violence – 37% (or 4,900) compared with 23% (or 1,700)
  • experienced repeat homelessness – 7.8% (or 1,000) compared with 2.3% (or 170)
  • begun support homeless – 49% (or 6,500) compared with 40% (or 3,000) (Figure HOMELESSNESS.6).

Figure HOMELESSNESS.6: Additional risk factors for Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients, by disability status and mental health status, 2019–20

Bar chart showing homelessness risk factors for clients, aged 10 and over, of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS), with and without disability, and with and without mental health issues. The reader can select to display the chart by disability status and by whether the person has a mental health issue or not. The chart shows people with disability and mental health issues are more likely (37%) to report domestic and family violence than those with disability and without mental health issues (23%).

Where can I find out more?

Data tables for this report.

This section looks primarily at all clients with disability. Annual reports from the SHSC generally focus on the subset of clients with severe or profound disability. More information on the AIHW website: SHSC and latest reports page.