Each year too many Australians experience homelessness or find themselves in circumstances that put them at risk of becoming homeless. People of all ages, genders, cultural backgrounds and personal circumstances can find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness at some time in their life. In response, Australian governments deliver a range of services specifically designed to reduce the incidence or frequency of homelessness and the impact it has on people and families.

In 2009–10, 219,900 people (or 1 in every 100 Australians) used government-funded specialist homelessness services. Of these, 135,700 (62%) were clients and 84,100 (38%) were children accompanying clients (see Box 3.1).

In 2009–10, young people (particularly young women), children, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were significant users of specialist homelessness services:

  • 1 in every 65 young Australians aged 15–19 years (23,200) and 1 in every 51 young women aged 15–19 years (14,300) became a client
  • 1 in every 60 Australian children aged 0–17 years (84,100) and 1 in 38 young children aged 0–4 years (37,100) accompanied a client
  • 18% of clients and 26% of children accompanying clients identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, far higher than the proportion of the general Australian population (2% and 5% respectively).

As the people using specialist homelessness services are diverse, the reasons they seek assistance and the support they require also vary. In 2009–10:

  • single women, women with children and young people commonly sought assistance because of issues in their interpersonal relationships, such as domestic or family violence or the breakdown of a relationship with a family member, spouse or partner
  • single men aged 25 years and over commonly sought assistance because of drug, alcohol or substance use or as a result of financial difficulties
  • couples, both with and without children, and men with children commonly sought assistance because of accommodation related issues, such as being evicted.

The types of support needed by clients generally aligned with the reasons they sought assistance. In the majority of cases, these needs were met by the time the client finished support.

Clients were supported for an average of 64 days and, when accommodated, were accommodated for an average of 60 days. Family groups generally had longer periods of support and accommodation than people who presented on their own.

In recent years there have been some changes in the use of government-funded specialist homelessness services. From 2006–07 to 2009–10:

  • there has been a small increase in the overall rate of Australians using specialist homelessness services—increasing from 1 in every 110 to 1 in 100
  • the proportion of support periods that include a period of specialist homelessness accommodation has decreased—from 38% to 29% 1  
  • the overall length of both support and accommodation has generally increased—support from an average of 50 days to 64; and accommodation from an average of 50 days to 60 days.

There has been little change in recent years in the overall demographic profile of clients and their accompanying children, their reasons for seeking assistance, or in their circumstances immediately following support.

  1. Accommodation data are reported differently in Victoria to other jurisdictions (see Box 1.1). If Victoria is excluded from the calculations, the proportion of support periods that included a period of specialist homelessness accommodation decreased from 49% in 2006–07 to 38% in 2009–10.