Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019) Specialist Homelessness Services annual report 2018–19, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 02 December 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Specialist Homelessness Services annual report 2018–19. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/shs-annual-report-18-19
Specialist Homelessness Services annual report 2018–19. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 18 December 2019, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/shs-annual-report-18-19
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Specialist Homelessness Services annual report 2018–19 [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2019 [cited 2022 Dec. 2]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/shs-annual-report-18-19
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019, Specialist Homelessness Services annual report 2018–19, viewed 2 December 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/shs-annual-report-18-19
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There is a strong association between problematic alcohol or other drug use and experiences of homelessness (AIHW 2019). Problematic drug and/or alcohol use can be a pathway into homelessness or develop while experiencing homelessness (Robinson 2014; Johnson & Chamberlain 2008). It can lock people into homelessness and compound the effects of limited service engagement and increased social isolation. The Journeys Home project identified that people were more likely to have risky levels of alcohol and drug use, the longer they were homeless (Scutella et al. 2014).
Problematic drug and/or alcohol users are at great risk of serious and preventable health issues and death, particularly those who are homeless (AIHW 2019). They are also likely to have the most persistent and challenging problems (Johnson & Chamberlain 2008; Scutella et al. 2014).
SHS clients aged 10 and over are reported in the SHSC with problematic drug and/or alcohol use if, at the beginning of or during support, the client provided any of the following information:
The identification of clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use may be current or recent; referring to issues at presentation, just prior to receiving support or at least once in the 12 months prior to support.
For more information see Technical notes.
In 2018–19 (Table SUB.1):
Number of clients
Proportion of all clients
Rate (per 10,000 population)
Housing situation at the beginning of the first support period (proportion (per cent) of all clients)
At risk of homelessness
Length of support (median number of days)
Average number of support periods per client
Proportion receiving accommodation
Median number of nights accommodated
Proportion of a client group with a case management plan
Achievement of all case management goals (per cent)
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2014–15 to 2018–19.
In 2018–19, of clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use (Supplementary table SUB.1):
Indigenous clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use had a younger age profile than non-Indigenous clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use. That is:
The types of living arrangements reported by SHS clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use at the beginning of support were quite different from the overall SHS population and other client groups. In 2018–19 (Supplementary tables SUB.9 and CLIENTS.7):
Most clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use face additional challenges which may make them more vulnerable to homelessness. The selected additional vulnerabilities presented here include family and domestic violence and/or a current mental health issue.
In 2018–19 (Table SUB.2):
Family and domestic violence
Mental health issue
and/or alcohol use
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19.
Clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use (see Tables SUB.1, DIS.1 and MH.1) received:
In 2018–19 (Supplementary table SUB 7):
In 2018–19, the main reasons clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use presented to SHS agencies were:
Few clients (6%) with problematic drug and/or alcohol use reported their substance use as the main reason for seeking SHS assistance.
In 2018–19, the top 6 needs reported by SHS clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use mainly related to housing and tenure (Figure SUB.1). Key features include:
In 2018–19, more than one-third (35% or almost 9,800 clients) of clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use identified a need for drug or alcohol based services (Figure SUB.1):
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19, Supplementary table SUB.3.
The proportion of SHS clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use with a case management plan has remained comparatively high over time (73% in 2018–19); however, those achieving all case management goals has remained low (15% in 2018–19). This group remains one of the least likely of all SHS client groups to meet all goals.
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 2018–19 reporting period.
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 (Table SUB.3):
While overall housing outcome figures generally reflect trends towards more favourable housing, experiences of homelessness, particularly rough sleeping, appear to be more common for clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use both at the start and end of SHS support.
Beginning of support
Beginning of support
House, townhouse or flat - couch surfer or with no tenure
Public or community housing - renter or rent free
Private or other housing - renter, rent free or owner
Total at risk
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection. Supplementary table SUB.4.
For clients with a known housing status who were at risk of homelessness at the start of support (almost 7,100 clients), by the end of support (Interactive Tableau visualisation):
A smaller number were experiencing homelessness at the end of support (around 1,600 clients or 23% of those who started support at risk).
For clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support (just over 8,500 clients), agencies were able to assist:
A further 1,600 clients (19%) were couch surfing at the end of support and 1,500 clients (17%) were rough sleeping at the end of support.
The characteristics of people with problematic drug and/or alcohol use as well as their service use patterns and housing outcomes were different from the other client groups presented in this report. Clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use were more likely to be male, present to agencies alone and be homeless at first presentation compared with overall SHS clients. They were also more likely to be returning clients and use support services to a greater extent.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. AIHW Cat. no: PHE 221. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 26 September 2019.
Kaleveld L, Seivwright A, Box E, Callis Z & Flatau P 2018. Homelessness in Western Australia: A review of the research and statistical evidence. Perth: Government of Western Australia, Department of Communities. Viewed 27/06/2019
Johnson C & Chamberlain G 2008. Homelessness and substance abuse: which comes first? Australian Social Work, 61(4) Viewed 1 February 2018.
Robinson C 2014. Trauma: A cause and consequence of homelessness. In: Chamberlain C, Johnson G, Robinson C (eds.) Homelessness in Australia. Sydney, NSW: NewSouth Publishing.
Scutella R, Chigavazira A, Killackey E, Herault N, Johnson G, Moshcion J & Wooden M 2014. Journeys Home Research Report No. 4 Findings from Waves 1 to 4: Special Topics. University of Melbourne.
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