Young people presenting alone

Family conflict and mental illness have been identified as youth homelessness risk factors, as has leaving the parental home prior to establishing stable employment (Carlisle et al. 2018, Steen & MacKenzie 2017). Young people can face discrimination in the private rental market due to lack of rental references and fewer financial resources (Homelessness Australia 2016).

Youth homelessness can lead to disruption of education and poorer education outcomes, which in turn leads to further economic disadvantage, perpetuating the cycle of homelessness in adulthood. For example, living in overcrowded housing can adversely affect the number of school years completed as students do not have enough space to do homework, get enough sleep or establish a routine (Fildes et al. 2018). There is concern that young people who do not seek support face substantial challenges in maintaining or engaging with education and employment, which is why it is important to provide greater avenues for preventing and responding to youth homelessness (Stone 2017).

According to Census estimates, around 27,700 young people aged 12–24 were experiencing homelessness on Census night in 2016, making up 24% of the total homeless population (ABS 2016). However, youth homelessness is likely to be underestimated in the Census (ABS 2016). For example, a usual address may be reported for couch surfers because the young person is staying in a household on Census night. It can be difficult to identify people experiencing this form of homelessness because of the transient nature of couch surfing and often young couch surfers do not classify themselves as homeless (Terui & Hsieh 2016). For more information, see Couch surfers. Children and young people are a national priority cohort listed in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which came into effect on 1 July 2018 (CFFR 2018) (see Policy section for more information).

Key findings:

  • In 2018–19, almost 43,000 young people aged 15–24 presented alone to SHS agencies.
  • Young people presenting alone made up 15% of all SHS clients but accounted for 73% of all SHS clients aged 15–24.
  • Half (51%) of all young people presenting alone were known to be homeless at presentation to agencies.
  • One-quarter (27%) of young people presenting alone were aged 15–17.
  • 1 in 6 (16%) young people presenting alone were enrolled in secondary school at the beginning of support, 3% were enrolled in university and 1 in 10 (10%) were enrolled in vocational education or other training.
  • Most (56%) young people presenting alone in 2018–19 had previously been assisted by a SHS agency at some point since the collection began in 2011–12.
  • Young people presenting alone were more likely to be living in a house, townhouse or flat as a ‘couch surfer’ with no tenure (30%, compared with 17% of the overall SHS population).
  • The proportion of young people who were known to be homeless decreased from 53% to 40% following SHS support, with the proportion of clients living in private or other housing increasing from 33% to 42%.

Client characteristics

Young people presenting alone are defined as any client aged 15–24 who presented to a SHS agency alone in their first support period in the financial year.

In 2018–19 (Table YOUNG.1):

  • SHS agencies assisted around 43,000 young people aged 15–24 who presented alone, representing a decrease of 200 clients from 2017–18.
  • Young people presenting alone made up 15% of all SHS clients but accounted for 73% of all SHS clients aged 15–24.
  • The rate of young people presenting alone was 17.2 per 10,000 population, decreasing from 17.6 in 2017–18.
Table YOUNG.1: Young people (15–24 years) presenting alone: at a glance—2014–15 to 2018–19

 

2014–15 

2015–16 

2016–17 

2017–18 

2018–19 

Number of clients

43,134

44,621

44,197

43,180

42,960

Proportion of all clients 17 16 15 15 15
 Rate (per 10,000 population) 18.4 18.7 18.3 17.6 17.2​

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

Homeless

52

52

52

52

51

At risk of homelessness

48

48 48

48

49

Length of support (median number of days) 44 44 47 49 54
Average number of support periods per client 1.8 1.8 1.8 1.9 1.8
Proportion receiving accommodation 35 34 31 31 31
Median number of nights accommodated 41 41 44 45 45
Proportion of a client group with a case management plan 58 60 60 63 64
Achievement of all case management goals (per cent) 20 18 18 19 20

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 young people presenting alone. 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.
  5. In 2017–18, age and age-related variables were derived using a more robust calculation method. Data for previous years have been updated with the improved calculation method for age. As such, data prior to 2017–18 contained in the SHS Annual Report may not match that contained in the SHS Annual Report Historical Tables.

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

Age and sex

In 2018–19, of young people presenting alone (Supplementary table YOUNG.1):

  • 3 in 5 were female (62% or over 26,800 clients).
  • 1 in 4 were aged 15–17 (27% or more than 11,400 clients).

Indigenous status

  • Over one-quarter of young people presenting alone were Indigenous (28% or almost 11,400 clients).
  • Young people presenting alone were more likely to identify as Indigenous than the overall SHS population (28%, compared with 26%).

State and territory and remoteness

  • The largest number of young people presenting alone accessed services in New South Wales (almost 14,300 clients or 33%), followed by Victoria (nearly 13,800 clients or 32%).
  • The highest rate of young people presenting alone was in the Northern Territory (55 clients per 10,000 population), followed by Tasmania (28).
  • The majority of young people presenting alone accessed services in Major cities (59% or more than 25,400 clients), followed by Inner regional areas (26% or over 11,000 clients).

Living arrangements

  • Among young people presenting alone, the most commonly reported living arrangement at the beginning of support was lone persons (42% or over 16,600 clients), followed by other family (17% or 6,700 clients).
  • Female clients were more likely than males to report their living arrangement as one parent with child/ren (21% or over 5,100 clients, compared with 6% or almost 1,000 males) while male clients were more likely to report their living arrangement as a lone person (51% or over 7,800 clients, compared with 36% or 8,800 females).

Education

Of those whose education status was known, around 3 in 10 young people presenting alone were enrolled in education (29% or nearly 11,300 clients).

  • 1 in 6 young people presenting alone were secondary school students (16% or around 6,400 clients).
  • 1 in 10 young people presenting alone were enrolled in vocational education and training or other education or training (10% or almost 3,800 clients).

Selected vulnerabilities

Young people presenting alone may face additional vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to homelessness, in particular family and domestic violence, mental health issues and problematic drug and/or alcohol use.

Of the 43,000 young people presenting alone in 2018–19, 3 in 5 (62%) reported experiencing one or more of these vulnerabilities (Table YOUNG.2):

  • More than 2 in 5 reported a current mental health issue (44% or over 18,900 clients).
  • 1 in 3 reported family and domestic violence (35% or almost 15,000 clients).
  • 13% (around 5,500 clients) reported experiencing both a current mental health issue and family and domestic violence only.
  • 14% (nearly 6,100 clients) reported problematic drug and/or alcohol use.
  • 6% (almost 2,500 clients) reported experiencing all 3 vulnerabilities.
  • Almost 2 in 5 (38% or 16,300 clients) reported experiencing none of these vulnerabilities.

Table YOUNG.2: Young people presenting alone, 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

2,468

5.7

Yes

Yes

No

5.532

12.9

Yes

No

Yes

402

0.9

No

Yes

Yes

2,380

5.5

Yes

No

No

6,555

15.3

No

Yes

No

8,531

19.9

No

No

Yes

836

1.9

No

No

No

16,256

37.8

 

 

 

42,960

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

  • Young people presenting alone who received assistance from SHS agencies in 2018–19 had an average of 1.8 support periods per client and a median of 54 days of support, increasing from 49 days in 2017–18.
  • 31% of young people who presented alone were provided with accommodation, with a median of 45 nights of accommodation provided throughout 2018–19.

New or returning clients

Most young people presenting alone in 2018–19 (56% or 24,100 clients) were returning clients, having previously been assisted by an SHS agency at some point since the collection began in 2011–12. Returning clients were more likely to be 18–24 (80%, compared with 65% of new clients).

Main reasons for seeking assistance

In 2018–19, the main reasons for seeking assistance among young people presenting alone were:

  • housing crisis (19% or over 8,100 clients)
  • family and domestic violence (16% or almost 6,800 clients)
  • inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (12% or nearly 5,000 clients)
  • relationship/family breakdown (12% or around 5,000 clients).

Young people who were known to be homeless at first presentation were more likely to identify housing crisis (25%, compared with 14% of clients at risk) or inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (16%, compared with 8% at risk) as their main reason for seeking assistance.

Family and domestic violence was the most commonly reported main reason for seeking assistance among young people presenting alone who were known to be at risk of homelessness. Compared with those who were homeless, young people at risk were twice as likely to report family and domestic violence as the main reason for seeking assistance (19%, compared with 10% homeless clients).

Services needed and provided

Similar to the overall SHS population, the majority of young people presenting alone needed general services that were provided by SHS agencies including advice/information, advocacy/liaison on behalf of client and other basic assistance.

Apart from those services, the most common services requested by young people presenting alone were (Figure YOUNG.1):

  • short-term or emergency accommodation (42% or over 18,100 clients), with 53% of those needing this service also receiving this service
  • long-term housing (42% or almost 18,100 clients), with 4% receiving this service and 24% receiving a referral
  • medium-term/transitional housing (38% or around 16,500 clients), with 28% receiving this service.

Figure YOUNG.1: Young people presenting alone, by most needed services and service provision status (top 6) , 2018–19

Figure YOUNG.1:  Young people presenting alone, by most needed services and service provision status (top 6), 2018–19. The stacked horizontal bar graph shows that the most common needs identified for young people presenting alone were accommodation related: 42%25 requested short-term or emergency accommodation (53%25 were provided with this accommodation), 38%25 requested medium-term/transitional housing (28%25 were provided with this accommodation), and 42%25 requested long-term housing (4%25 provided with this accommodation).

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 YOUNG.3.

Young people presenting alone were also more likely than the overall SHS population to request services including:

  • living skills/personal development (35%, compared with 19%), with 93% receiving this service
  • educational assistance (20%, compared with 8%), with 75% receiving this service
  • employment assistance (17%, compared with 6%), with 72% receiving this service
  • training assistance (14%, compared with 4%), with 69% receiving this service.

Outcomes at the end of support

Outcomes presented here describe the change 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 support period in 2018–19 is compared with the end of their last support period in 2018–19. A proportion of these clients may have sought assistance prior to 2018–19, and may again in the future.

At the end of the reporting period in 2018–19 (Table YOUNG.3):

  • The proportion of young people presenting alone who were known to be homeless decreased from 53% at the beginning of support to 40% at the end of support; over 4,000 fewer clients were homeless at the end of support. 
  • The shift in the proportion of couch surfers accounted for much of the decrease in the proportion of clients who were homeless; the proportion of clients living in a house, townhouse or flat as a ‘couch surfer’ with no tenure dropped from 30% to 21% at the end of support, while the proportion sleeping rough dropped from 8% to 5%.
  • The largest change for those known to be at risk of homelessness was in the proportion of clients living in private or other housing, which increased from 33% to 42% at the end of support (to almost 11,200 clients).

These trends demonstrate that by the end of support, many clients have achieved or progressed towards a more positive housing solution. That is, the number and/or proportion of clients ending support in public or community housing (renter or rent-free), private or other housing (renter or rent-free) or institutional settings had increased compared with the start of support. 

Table YOUNG.3: Young people presenting alone (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
 
2,300 1,245 8.3 4.7
Short term temporary accommodation 4,140 3,692 15.0 14.0

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

8,185

5,602

29.6

21.2

Total homeless 14,625 10,539 52.9 39.9

Public or community housing - renter or rent free

2,849

3,870

10.3

14.6

Private or other housing - renter, rent free or owner

9,094

11,184

32.9

42.3

Institutional settings

1,104

832

4.0

3.1

Total at risk

13,047

15,886

47.1

60.1

Total clients with known housing situation 27,672 26,425 100.0 100.0
Not stated/other 4,059 5,306    

Total clients

31,731

31,731

 

 

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 2018–19. Supplementary table YOUNG.4.

Housing outcomes for homeless versus at risk clients

For clients with a known housing status who were at risk of homelessness at the start of support (almost 12,200 clients), by the end of support (Figure YOUNG.2):

  • Most clients (7,300 or 60%) were in private or other housing
  • Around 2,600 clients (21%) were in public or community housing.

A smaller number were experiencing homelessness at the end of support (around 1,700 clients or 14% of those who started support at risk).

Figure YOUNG.2: Housing situation for clients with closed support who began support at risk of homelessness, 2018–19

Figure YOUNG.2: Housing situation for clients with closed support who began support at risk of homelessness, 2018–19. This Sankey diagram shows the housing situation (including rough sleeping, couch surfing, short-term accommodation, public/community housing, private housing and institutional settings) of young clients presenting alone with closed support periods at first presentation and at the end of support. In 2018–19 at the beginning of support, of those at risk of homelessness, 70%25 were in private housing. At the end of support, 60%25 of clients were in private housing and 21%25 were in public or community housing. A total of 14%25 of clients were homeless.

Notes

  1. Excludes clients with unknown housing situation
  2. Includes only those clients who ceased receiving support during the financial year (meaning that their support period(s) had closed and they were not in ongoing support at the end of the year).

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2018–19

For clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support (almost 13,200 clients), agencies were able to assist (Figure YOUNG.3):

  • 3,400 clients (26%) into private or other housing
  • 2,800 (21%) into short term accommodation.

More than 1 in 3 (35% or almost 4,600 clients) were couch surfing at the end of support.

Figure YOUNG.3: Housing situation for clients with closed support who were experiencing homelessness at the start of support, 2018–19

Figure YOUNG.3: Housing situation for clients with closed support who were experiencing homelessness at the start of support, 2018–19. This Sankey diagram shows the housing situation (including rough sleeping, couch surfing, short-term accommodation, public/community housing, private housing and institutional settings) of young clients presenting with closed support periods at first presentation and at the end of support. In 2018–19 at the beginning of support, of those experiencing homelessness, 57%25 were couch surfing. At the end of support, 35%25 of clients were couch surfing and 26%25 were in private housing. A total of 64%25 of clients were homeless.

Notes

  1. Excludes clients with unknown housing situation
  2. Includes only those clients who ceased receiving support during the financial year (meaning that their support period(s) had closed and they were not in ongoing support at the end of the year).

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2018–19

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2016. Census of population and housing: estimating homelessness, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2049.0. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2018. Couch surfers: a profile of Specialist Homelessness Services clients. Cat. no. HOU 298. Canberra: AIHW.

Carlisle E, Fildes J, Hall S, Hicking V, Perrens B & Plummer J 2018. Youth survey report 2018. Sydney: Mission Australia.

CFFR (Council on Federal Financial Relations) 2018. National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. Viewed 3 October 2019.

Fildes J, Perrens B & Plummer J 2018. Young people’s experiences of homelessness: findings from the youth survey 2017. Sydney: Mission Australia.

Homelessness Australia 2016. Homelessness and young people. Fact sheet, January 2016. Canberra: Homelessness Australia. Viewed 3 October 2019,

Steen A & MacKenzie D 2017. The sustainability of the youth foyer model: a comparison of the UK and Australia. Social Policy & Society 16(3): 391–404. doi:10.1017/S1474746416000178.

Stone C 2017. Skills to pay the bills: education, employment and youth homelessness. Foundation paper. Sydney: Yfoundations. Viewed 3 October 2019,

Terui S & Hsieh E 2016. ‘Not homeless yet. I’m kind of couch surfing’: finding identities for people at a homeless shelter. Social Work in Public Health 31(7): 688–699.