Unmet demand for specialist homelessness services

Specialist homelessness services (SHS) in Australia supported, on average, an estimated 65,800 people each day in 2018–19. However, there were also people who approached agencies who were unable to be offered any assistance. There may be a range of reasons an agency cannot assist a person. For example, the person may be seeking a specialised service not offered by that particular agency, the agency may not have the capacity to provide assistance at that time or the person may not be in the target group for the agency.

1.Unassisted requests for services

Identifying unassisted requests for services in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)

Unassisted requests for services are instances where a person requests assistance from a SHS agency and receives no assistance at the time of request. The SHSC captures limited information about unassisted requests for services, as it is not always appropriate for an agency to collect the same detailed information as they would if the person became a client. See Technical information for more information on measuring unassisted requests in the SHSC.

Key findings

  • In 2018–19, on average, there were 253 unassisted requests per day; a total of 92,300 unassisted requests for 2018–19, 6,200 more than in 2017–18 (86,100).
  • More than 3 in 4 daily unassisted requests included a need for some type of accommodation support (76%).
  • Most commonly, agencies were unable to offer requests for accommodation because there was no accommodation available at the time.
  • The majority of unassisted requests were from females (66%).

Unassisted requests for services 2018–19

Across Australia, there were around 92,300 unassisted requests in 2018–19:

  • On average, there were 253 unassisted requests per day
    • About 166 daily unassisted requests (66%) were made by females and 87 by males (34%). This reflects the overall SHS client population, which is predominantly female (Supplementary table UNMET.2).
  • More than 1 in 4 (28%) unassisted requests were from females aged 25–44 (Supplementary table UNMET.2).
  • More than 3 in 4 (78%) unassisted requests from single adults with children were from females, and most of these females were aged 25–44 (60% of adult single females with children) (Supplementary table UNMET.7).

Unassisted requests for services, trends over time

Some key trends in unassisted requests since 2014–15 include:

  • The number of unassisted requests has varied over time (Table UNASSISTED.1). The increase in unassisted requests in 2018–19 was primarily due to increases in Western Australia and Victoria. For further details, see the data quality information and Technical notes.
  • The proportion of unassisted requests from persons living alone has decreased from 63% in 2014–15 to 56% in 2018–19 while the proportion of unassisted requests from single parents has increased from 33% in 2014–15 to 38% in 2018–19.
  • Almost two-thirds (66%) of the unassisted requests were from females in 2018–19
Table UNASSISTED.1: Unassisted requests for service: at a glance—2014–15 to 2018–19

 

2014–15 

2015–16 

2016–17 

2017–18 

2018–19 

Number

119,910

100,302

95,392

86,103

92,292

Sex (per cent)

Female

65

64

66

66

65

Male

35

36

34

34

35

Living arrangement (per cent)

Lone person

63

63

60

58

56

Sole parent

33

33

35

37

38

Couple with child(ren)

0

0

0

0

0

Couple without children

2

2

2

2

2

Other family group

2

2

3

3

4

Average number of times a person approached an agency 1.4 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.7
Unassisted people who become clients (per cent) 45 47 46 47 45

Notes:

  1. 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.
  2. The SLK used to derive the average number of times a person approached an agency and the unassisted people who became clients is relatively low, and therefore both are likely to be an underestimate. 

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

Analysis of how often a person requested assistance and how many later became SHS clients can only be examined and understood where the statistical linkage key (SLK) was complete and valid (just over half (53%) of all unassisted requests). In 2018–19, on average, each unassisted person approached an agency 1.7 times, a similar average to 2017–18 (1.5 times).

In 2018–19, 45% of people with a valid SLK later went on to become clients and received services during the year, similar to 2017–18 (47%). The service use experience for the remaining 55% were unknown; they may have received assistance from a non-SHS service, used their own support networks or continued to experience unstable housing or homelessness. Alternatively, these people may go on to become clients in future years.

Services requested

In 2018–19:

  • On average, 76% of daily unassisted requests included a need for some type of accommodation support (Figure UNASSISTED.1):
    • Most unassisted daily requests related to short-term or emergency accommodation (62%). Females were more likely than males to have unmet requests for short-term or emergency accommodation (41% and 21% respectively).
    • Unassisted requests for short-term or emergency accommodation were higher than in 2017–18. There were, on average, 9 more unassisted requests per day for this type of assistance.

Figure UNASSISTED.1: Daily average unassisted requests, by type of service requested and sex, 2018–19

Figure UNASSISTED.1: Daily average unassisted requests, by type of service requested and sex, 2018–19. The stacked vertical bar graph shows that the majority of unassisted daily accommodation requests related to short-term or emergency accommodation (62%25 of all service requests); 41%25 were requests from females, and 21%25 from males.

Note: Per cent calculations based on total daily average unassisted requests, excluding where sex unknown.
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19, Supplementary table UNMET.4.

More than 9 in 10 (95%) daily unassisted requests for services from single parents with children were for accommodation needs (short-term accommodation and other housing assistance), compared with 69% for lone persons (Figure UNASSISTED.2).

Figure UNASSISTED.2: Proportion of unassisted requests for services by single person with or without children, by service type, 2018–19

Figure UNASSISTED.2: Proportion of unassisted requests for services by single person with or without children, by service type, 2018–19. The vertical bar graph shows that over 9 in 10 (95%25) of daily unassisted requests for services from single persons with children were for accommodation needs, compared with 69%25 for single persons without children.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19, Supplementary table UNMET.5.

Most commonly, agencies reported that they could not meet requests for any accommodation because there was no accommodation available at the time of the request (Supplementary table UNMET.6). On fewer than 1 in 10 occasions (8%), a person did not accept the service offered.

2. Clients’ unmet need for services

Clients receiving support from SHS agencies often need a wide range of services. Some needs arise more than once in a support period and this makes it difficult to assess the extent to which the need has been met from the available data.

Reporting unmet need for services in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)

Unmet need is recorded when an SHS client has some, but not all, their identified needs for services met. Agencies can also refer clients to another service for assistance.

Key findings

  • Almost 169,200 SHS clients (58%) identified a need for accommodation services in 2018–19 and this service was able to be provided to more than half of these clients (86,100 clients or 51%).
  • The ability of agencies to provide certain specialist services was similar to the previous year. For example, in 2018–19, 1 in 3 (34%) mental health service requests were neither provided nor referred, similar to that for 2017–18 (32%).  

Unmet need for accommodation and housing assistance services

Accommodation was the most common need identified by SHS clients in 2018–19; over half (58%) of all clients needed at least one type of accommodation service (Figure UNMET NEED.1):

  • Nearly 2 in 5 clients (39% or 112,700 clients) needed short-term or emergency accommodation; 6 in 10 (59%) of those requesting this service were provided with assistance, while 1 in 10 (10%) were referred.
  • Almost 2 in 5 clients (38% or 109,600 clients) identified a need for long-term housing; about 4% (4,000 clients) of these clients were provided with this service, and an additional 26% were referred.
  • The number of clients requesting either short-term or emergency accommodation or long-term housing were similarly large; however, the difference in the proportion of clients receiving these types of accommodation highlights the substantial unmet need for long-term housing encountered by SHS clients (71% or 77,500 clients with unmet need for long-term housing).

Figure UNMET NEED.1: Clients with unmet needs for accommodation and housing assistance services, 2018–19

Figure UNMET NEED.1: Clients with unmet needs for accommodation and housing assistance services, 2018–19. The stacked horizontal bar graph shows that 39%25 (112,700 clients) needed short-term or emergency accommodation; 59%25 of those requesting this service were provided with assistance. Thirty-eight per cent (109,600 clients) identified a need for long-term accommodation; about 4%25 (or 4,000 clients) of these clients were provided with the service. Other common unmet needs were services to sustain tenancy or prevent eviction and medium-term housing.

Notes

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

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19, Supplementary table CLIENTS.18.

Unmet need for general and specialised services

An agency was able to meet the general needs of many clients. For example, of the over 227,300 clients who needed advice/information, 98% were provided assistance, and of the almost 160,200 clients requesting advocacy/liaison, 96% were provided with assistance (Supplementary table CLIENTS.18).

Other types of client needs were less commonly met. For example, among those SHS clients who required professional legal services (3% or almost 9,600 clients), the level of unmet need was substantial, around 29% at the end of support. This may be because of the specialist skills required to provide legal services and the limited availability of these skills within the SHS agencies and other referral services offered to clients.

The level of unmet need for broad groups of specialised services can be determined (Figure UNMET NEED.2):

  • Mental health services, including psychological, psychiatric and mental health services, were one of the most common specialised services needed by clients; however, these needs were frequently unmet with 1 in 3 clients (34%) neither provided nor referred these services.
  • Around 4 in 10 clients identifying a need for disability services (41%) or drug and alcohol services (35%) did not have their needs met.
  • Immigration and cultural services, needed by 6% of SHS clients (about 18,500 people), were provided for most requiring them (84%).

Figure UNMET NEED.2: Clients with unmet needs for specialised services (grouped), 2018–19

Figure UNMET NEED.2: Clients with unmet needs for specialised services (grouped), 2018–19. The stacked horizontal bar graph shows that mental health services, including psychological, psychiatric and mental health services, were the most common specialised services identified as needed by clients. These needs were also the most frequently unmet with 34%25 of clients neither provided nor referred these services. Forty-one per cent of the clients identifying a need for disability services did not have their needs met nor did 1 in 3 (35%25) clients identifying a need for drug and alcohol services.

Notes

  1. Excludes 'Other basic assistance','Advice/information' and 'Advocacy/liaison on behalf of client'.
  2. 'Unmet' indicates a service was neither provided nor referred.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19, Supplementary table CLIENTS.18.