Clients with disability

People with disability are a diverse group, with varied levels and types of support needs. Their pathways into and out of homelessness are just as varied, and how people with a disability experience homelessness may differ to other populations (Beer et al. 2012). People with disability may have a greater exposure to risk factors associated with homelessness than the general population (Beer et al. 2012). Low income, lack of social support, limited engagement with the labour market, compounded by the need for specialised assistance and services, can leave some people with disability increasingly vulnerable to the risk of homelessness and the negative impact of homelessness.

Timely access to safe, suitable and long-term housing can be critical to the wellbeing of people with disability. Affordable and secure housing can provide people with disability independence and the ability to participate in social, economic, sporting and cultural life. Housing that meets accessibility standards, is in close proximity to transport and to quality and affordable support services is also vital for those with disability (COAG 2011). The consequences of inadequate support may be severe for both those with physical and/or intellectual disabilities (Beer et al. 2012).

In 2018, an estimated 1 in 5 Australians (4.4 million people, or 18% of the total population) had disability (ABS 2019), ranging from mild to severe disabilities. Similar to 2006 and 2011, the 2016 Census identified around 5,700 people experiencing homelessness with disability in Australia (defined as people with a need for assistance with core activities) (ABS 2018). People with disability represented 5% of those experiencing homelessness on Census night in 2016.

Key findings

  • In 2018–19, 7,200 (2%) SHS clients reported a severe or profound core activity limitation (throughout this section termed those with severe or profound disability).
  • Over half (54%) of clients with severe or profound disability were housed but at risk of homelessness when they sought SHS assistance; the other 46% were experiencing homelessness.
  • Almost 2 in 3 clients with disability in 2018–19 (62%) had previously been assisted by a SHS agency at any time since the collection began in 2011–12, the remaining 38% were deemed to be new clients.
  • Most clients with severe or profound disability (with closed support) ended SHS support housed (68% or 2,900 clients); with many in private or other housing (1,600 or 37%).
 

Reporting clients with disability in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)

Disability is a challenging concept to measure and there are numerous ways to identify it in any population. The SHSC disability questions are based on identifying whether the client has any difficulty and/or need for assistance with 3 core activities (self care, mobility and communication). These questions are asked of all SHS clients.

Data for clients with disability who required assistance may not be comparable across age groups due to differences in the interpretation of the SHSC disability questions. This issue mainly relates to young children, and therefore any comparisons between age groups should be made with caution.

Further details about measuring disability in the SHSC and the definition of a client with severe or profound core activity limitation are provided in the Technical notes.

Client characteristics

In 2018–19 (Table DIS.1):

  • 7,200 SHS clients reported that they always or sometimes needed assistance with core activities (self care, communication and/or mobility). This group of people can be described as having severe or profound core activity limitation(s), or as living with disability.
  • SHS clients with severe or profound disability represented 2% of all SHS clients in 2018–19, down from 3% in 2017–18.
Table DIS.1: Clients with disability: at a glance—2014–15 to 2018–19

 

2014-15

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18 2018-19

Number of clients

8,789 9,812 10,988 7,902 7,198

Proportion of all clients

3

4

4

3 2

Rate (per 10,000 population)

3.7

4.1

4.5

3.2 2.9

Housing situation at the beginning of the first support period (proportion (per cent) of all clients)

Homeless

43

44

44

46 46

At risk of homelessness

57

56

56

54 54

Length of support (median number of days)

59

64

65

76 80

Average number of support periods per client

2.2

2.3

2.3

2.5 2.4

Proportion receiving accommodation

40

39

39

38 36

Median number of nights accommodated

55

55

50

58 50

Proportion of a client group with a case management plan

68

70

70

74 74

Achievement of all case management goals (per cent)

19

18

18

22 24

Notes

  1. Rates are crude rates based on the Australian estimated resident population (ERP) at 30 June of the reference year. Minor adjustments in rates may occur between publications reflecting revision of the estimated resident population by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  2. The denominator for the proportion receiving accommodation is all SHS clients with disability. Denominator values for proportions are provided in the relevant supplementary table.
  3. The denominator for the proportion achieving all case management goals is the number of client groups with a case management plan. Denominator values for proportions are provided in the relevant supplementary table.
  4. Data for 2014–15 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 2014–15 to 2016–17 are comparable with unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards. For further information, please refer to the Technical Notes.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2014–15 to 2018–19.

Age and sex

In 2018–19, of the 7,200 clients with severe or profound disability (Supplementary table DIS.1):

  • Clients were generally younger than the total SHS population, that is,
    • 41% (2,900 clients) were under 25 years; most of these younger people were less than 10 years (almost 1,800 clients)
    • 42% (3,000) were aged 25 to 54
    • 18% (1,300) were aged 55 or over.
  • There were similar proportions of male (51% or 3,700 clients) and female (49% or 3,500) SHS clients with severe or profound disability.
  • There was a higher proportion of male SHS clients under 10 years living with disability (27% of males with disability) compared with females (22% of females with disability). For those aged 18 and over, there was a greater proportion of female than male SHS clients with disability.

Indigenous clients

In 2018–19 (Supplementary table DIS.8):

  • Of the 6,800 SHS clients with severe or profound disability who provided information about their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status, almost 1 in 4 were Indigenous (24% or 1,600 clients), similar to the SHS population (26%).
  • There were equal numbers of Indigenous male and female clients with disability (800 each), but differences based on age. Of male Indigenous clients with disability, a higher proportion were aged under 10 years (37%) compared with female Indigenous clients with disability (29%).
  • Indigenous clients with disability had a younger age profile than non-Indigenous clients with disability. Forty per cent of Indigenous clients with disability were aged under 18 compared with 29% of non-Indigenous clients.

States and territory and remoteness

In 2018–19 (Supplementary table DIS.2):

  • Four in 10 (40% or almost 2,900 clients) SHS clients with severe or profound disability accessed SHS services in Victoria, 24% (more than 1,700 clients) in New South Wales and 14% (1,000 clients) in South Australia.
  • The Northern Territory had the highest rate of SHS clients with severe or profound disability (7 clients per 10,000 population), followed by Victoria (4 clients), while Queensland had the lowest rate (2 per 10,000 population). These rates were all lower than in 2017–18, with the exception of South Australia which increased from 5 clients per 10,000 people to 6 in 2018–19.
  • Seven in 10 (70%) clients with severe or profound disability accessed services in Major cities and 18% in Inner regional areas, different from the general SHS population (61% and 23% respectively) (Supplementary tables DIS.10 and REG.1).

In 2018–19, of the clients with severe or profound disability, the most common living arrangement reported at the beginning of SHS support was living alone (37% or almost 2,700 clients) (Supplementary table DIS.9). The next most common living arrangement was one parent with child/ren (28% or 2,000) and then other family (13% or over 900 clients). These proportions have been similar over time.

Living arrangements

In 2018–19, of the clients with severe or profound disability, the most common living arrangement reported at the beginning of SHS support was living alone (37% or almost 2,700 clients) (Supplementary table DIS.9). The next most common living arrangement was one parent with child/ren (28% or 2,000) and then other family (13% or over 900 clients). These proportions have been similar over time.

Selected vulnerabilities

Living with disability may not be the only challenge faced by this group of SHS clients. In 2018–19, 3 in 4 clients (74% or 4,000 clients) with severe or profound disability (aged 10 and over) reported experiencing one or more selected vulnerabilities: a current mental health issue, problematic drug and/or alcohol use or family and domestic violence (Table DIS.2). One in 4 clients (26% or 1,400) with disability did not report any of the selected vulnerabilities.

In 2018–19:

  • 1 in 3 (32% or 1,700) clients with disability reported experiencing a current mental health issue only
  • 14% (more than 700) experienced a current mental health issue and family and domestic violence
  • a further 6% (more than 300 clients) of clients experienced all 3 vulnerabilities.
Table DIS.2: Clients with disability, by selected vulnerability characteristics, 2018–19

Family and domestic violence

Mental health issue

Problematic drug
and/or alcohol use

Clients

Per cent

Yes

Yes

Yes

342

6.3

Yes

Yes

No

742

13.7

Yes

No

Yes

28

0.5

No

Yes

Yes

585

10.8

Yes

No

No

454

8.4

No

Yes

No

1,709

31.5

No

No

Yes

157

2.9

No

No

No

1,413

26.0

 

 

 

5,430

100.0

Notes

  1. Clients are assigned to one category only based on their vulnerability profile.
  2. Clients are aged 10 and over.
  3. Totals may not sum due to rounding.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19.

Service use patterns

In 2018–19, clients with profound or severe disability:

  • received a median of 80 days of support, almost double the general SHS population (median 44 days) (Table DIS.1 and Table CLIENT.1). This may reflect the more complex needs of these clients
  • were more likely to receive accommodation (36%) than the general SHS population (30%), and for those who did, the length of supported accommodation was much longer (median 50 nights compared with 29 nights for the general SHS population)
  • were less likely to receive accommodation over time; in 2018–19, 36% received accommodation, down from 40% in 2014–15. This is still higher than the total SHS population (30%).

New or returning clients

The episodic or cyclic nature of homelessness can be explored by analysing whether clients with severe or profound disability were new to SHS agencies, or returning clients. In 2018–19, 62% (4,500 clients) of clients with severe or profound disability had also received SHS assistance at some time since the collection began in 2011–12 (Supplementary table DIS.7). The other 38% (2,700 clients) were new clients, that is, they only accessed services in 2018–19. One-third (34% or more than 900 clients) of new clients with disability were young, aged under 10.

Main reasons for seeking assistance

In 2018–19, for SHS clients with severe or profound disability (Supplementary tables DIS.5 and DIS.6):

  • The most common main reason for seeking SHS assistance was housing crisis (27% or 1,900 clients), which is consistent with 2017–18. This was most common for both clients experiencing homelessness (32% or almost 1,000 clients) and at risk of homelessness (23% or almost 900 clients). 
  • Family and domestic violence was the second most common main reason (18% or 1,300 clients), more so for clients at risk of homelessness (19% or 700 clients) than clients experiencing homelessness (13% or 400 clients).  
  • Inadequate or inappropriate dwellings conditions was the next most common main reason (13% or 900 clients), with 16% of homeless (500 clients) and 11% of at risk clients reporting this as a main reason (400 clients).

Services needed and provided

Four of the top 6 reasons clients with profound or severe disability sought SHS assistance were housing-related and the other 2 were financial reasons (Figure DIS.1). Of clients with disability in 2018–19:

  • Almost half needed long-term housing (49% or more than 3,500 clients), which is accommodation for 3 months or more. One in 20 clients (5% or less than 200 clients) with severe or profound disability received the long-term housing they needed. An additional 28% (almost 1,000 clients) received a referral.
  • 45% (over 3,200 clients) needed assistance to sustain tenancy or prevent tenancy failure or eviction and this service was provided to most (81% or around 2,600) of clients with that need.
  • 45% (3,200 clients) needed short-term or emergency accommodation, and it was provided to more than half (57% or 1,800 clients) with that need.
  • 37% (almost 2,700 clients) needed medium-term/transitional housing and it was provided to one-third (32% or more than 800 clients) with that need.

Of the financial reasons for seeking SHS assistance:

  • Material aid/brokerage was needed by 44% of clients (3,200 clients), and provided to 88% of those with that need.
  • Financial information was needed by 32% of clients (2,300 clients) and provided to 85% of clients with that need.

Figure DIS.1: Clients with disability, by most needed services and service provision status (top 6), 2018–19

Figure DIS.1: Clients with disability, by most needed services and service provision status (top 6), 2018–19. This horizontal stacked bar graph shows that long-term housing was the most needed service by clients with disability; 3,500 clients need it, and 5%25 of these clients received it. This was followed by assistance to sustain tenancy/prevent eviction (3,200 clients), short-term or emergency accommodation (3,200 clients), material aid/brokerage (3,200 clients), medium-term housing (2,700 clients) and financial information (2,300 clients). Many clients received these services (ranging from 57%25 to 88%25) with the exception of medium-term housing where around 32%25 received it.

Notes

  1. Excludes ‘Other basic assistance’, ‘Advice/information’ and ‘Advocacy/liaison on behalf of client’.
  2. 'Short-term accommodation' includes temporary and emergency accommodation and sustain tenancy/prevent eviction includes assistance to sustain tenancy or prevent tenancy failure or eviction.
  3. 'Neither' indicates a service was neither provided nor referred.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19, Supplementary table DIS.3.

 

In terms of other services that were needed by clients with severe or profound disability:

  • 1 in 5 clients (20% or 1,400) needed health/medical services and around 3 in 4 (77%) with these identified needs either received the services or were referred elsewhere for services.
  • Clients with severe or profound disability were more likely to need transport (28% or over 2,000 clients), assistance with challenging social/behavioural problems (19%) and assistance for trauma (16%) than the general SHS population (20%, 13% and 13% respectively).

Outcomes at the end of support

Outcomes presented here highlight the changes in clients’ housing situation between the start and end of support. Data is limited to clients who ceased receiving support during the financial year—meaning that their support periods had closed and they did not have ongoing support at the end of the year.

Many clients had long periods of support or even multiple support periods during 2018–19. They may have had a number of changes in their housing situation over the course of their support. These changes within the year are not reflected in the data presented here, rather the client situation at the start of their first period of support during 2018–19 is compared with the end of their last period of support in 2018–19. A proportion of these clients may have sought assistance prior to 2018–19, and may again in the future.

In 2018–19, key features of the housing situation for clients with disability include (Table DIS.3):

  • At the start of SHS support, more clients with disability were known to be at risk of homelessness (more than 2,400 or 55%) than experiencing homelessness (2,000 or 45%). Following SHS support, there were fewer clients with disability experiencing homelessness (1,400 clients or 32%).
  • The decrease in the proportion of clients known to be experiencing homelessness was largely due to the drop in those living in a house, townhouse or flat as a couch surfer (with no tenure); down from 15% at the start of support to 9% at the end.
  • For clients with disability, the greatest change in housing situation from the start to the end of support was for those living in public or community housing; increasing from just over 600 to 1,000 clients (from 14% to 24%).

SHS agencies were able to assist many clients secure or maintain housing, reducing the experience and risk of homelessness among clients with disability.

Table DIS.3: Clients with disability (closed support), by housing situation at the beginning and end of support, 2018–19

Housing situation

Beginning of support
(number)

End of
support
(number)

Beginning of support
(per cent)

End of
support
(per cent)

No shelter or improvised/inadequate dwelling
517 297 11.7 6.9.
Short term temporary accommodation 786 690 17.8 16.0

House, townhouse or flat - couch surfer or with no tenure

671

402

15.2

9.3

Total homeless 1,974 1,389 44.7 32.2

Public or community housing - renter or rent free

634

1,034

14.3

24.0

Private or other housing - renter, rent free or owner

1,502

1,607

34.0

37.3

Institutional settings

310

281

7.0

6.5

Total at risk

2,446

2,922

55.3

67.8

Total clients with known housing situation 4,420 4,311 100.0 100.0
Not stated/other 503 612    

Total clients

4,923

4,923

 

 

Notes

  1. Percentages have been calculated using total number of clients as the denominator (less not stated/other).
  2. It is important to note that individual clients beginning support in one housing type need not necessarily be the same individuals ending support in that housing type.
  3. Not stated/other includes those clients whose housing situation at either the beginning or end of support was unknown.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection. Supplementary table DIS.4.

Housing outcomes for homeless versus at risk clients

For clients with severe or profound disability with a known housing status who were at risk of homelessness at the start of support (more than 2,300 clients), by the end of support (Interactive Tableau visualisation ):

  • Half (around 1,200 clients or 51%) were in private housing
  • Around 700 clients (29%) were in public or community housing.

For clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support (almost 1,800 clients), agencies were able to assist:

  • almost 500 clients (26%) into short term accommodation
  • 400 (21%) into private housing.

For more information on people with disability, see People with disability in Australia, AIHW.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2018 ABS cat. no. 4430.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018. Census of population and housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2049.0. Canberra: ABS.

Beer A, Baker E, Mallett S, Batterham D, Pate A & Lester, L 2012 Addressing homelessness amongst persons with disability: Identifying and enacting best practice. FaHCSIA National Homelessness Research Project. Viewed 16 September 2019,

Beer A and Faulkner D 2009. The housing careers of people with a disability and carers of people with a disability. Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Research paper. Melbourne: AHURI.

COAG (Council of Australian Governments) National Disability Strategy 2010–2020, 2011, Viewed 16 September 2019.