The policy framework for reducing homelessness

Governments across Australia fund a range of services to support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. These services are delivered by non-government organisations including agencies specialising in delivering services to specific target groups (such as young people or people escaping domestic violence), as well as those that provide more generic services to those facing housing crises. These services support both those who have become homeless and those who are at imminent risk of homelessness.

This report describes:

  • the people who received assistance from specialist homelessness agencies in 2014‒15, the assistance they received and their changes in housing and other circumstances
  • trends in characteristics of clients, the services they receive and their outcomes
  • the people who requested services in 2014‒15 but were not provided with support during the year.

Data describing clients who have a disability and need support with core activities are presented from 2013‒14 onwards.

The data in this publication are compiled from the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC), which is conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

People who are homeless or facing homelessness may also access a range of mainstream services that are available to the broader community (such as income support payments or health services). These services are not described in this report.

The policy framework for reducing homelessness

Many Australians experience events in their life that may place them at risk of homelessness. It is estimated that around 44% of low-income households experience affordability issues due to rental stress (paying more than 30% of their gross income on rent) [1], and around 1 in 6 women have experienced some form of domestic and family violence in their lifetime, putting them at risk of homelessness [2].

In the 2011 Census, 105,000 Australians were classified as homeless. This figure includes people in supported accommodation for the homeless, people in temporary accommodation, those 'sleeping rough' and people living in severely crowded dwellings (those that required 4 or more extra bedrooms to accommodate the residents) [3].

Responses to homelessness are funded under the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA). The NAHA is supported by the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH). The NPAH contributes to the NAHA outcome that 'people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness achieve sustainable housing and social inclusion' and outlines the roles and responsibilities of the Australian Government and state and territory governments in relation to reducing and preventing homelessness. Funding associated with the NPAH was provided for the period 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2013, with an interim funding arrangement agreed between the Australian and state and territory governments for 2013‒14 and 2014‒15. In 2015‒16, the Australian government has committed further funding of $230 million over 2 years, under the NPAH, which is to be matched by states and territories.

The Australian Government has released a draft Discussion Paper on the Reform of the Federation to seek to review roles and responsibilities between the federal and state and territory governments. The Reform of the Federation Discussion Paper 2015 [4] includes an examination of the roles and responsibilities of governments in relation to housing and homelessness, and aims to seek views on shaping the future of housing and homelessness policy in Australia. The Reform of the Federation White Paper will be released in 2016.

About the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection

The SHSC began on 1 July 2011. The collection has been designed to collect data from homelessness agencies that are funded under the NAHA and the NPAH. State and territory departments identify agencies that are expected to participate in data collection. These agencies vary widely in terms of the services they provide and the service delivery frameworks they use. These frameworks may be determined by the state or territory funding department or developed as a response to local homelessness issues.

All SHSC agencies report standardised data about the clients they support each month to the AIHW. Data are collected about the characteristics and circumstances of clients when they first present at an agency. Further data―on assistance received and circumstances―are collected at the end of every month in which the client receives services and when contact with the client has ceased.

In 2014‒15, there were around 1,500 agencies that provided data for the SHSC.

This information contributes to building a picture of clients, the specialist homelessness services that were provided to them and outcomes achieved for the client (Figure Framework.1). SHSC data provide a measure of the service response directed to those who are experiencing housing difficulty. The data do not provide a measure of the extent of homelessness in the community, although SHSC data on emergency and supported accommodation do contribute to the profile of homelessness in Australia.

Figure Framework.1: Conceptual framework of the SHSC client collection

Figure FRAMEWORK.1 Conceptual framework of the SHSC client collection. The flow diagram illustrates the relationships between the clients of specialist homelessness services, the assistance provided, and what the outcomes were for the client. The data collected on each of these 3 items are collected from the 1,500 or more specialist homelessness agencies.  

The data collected by agencies are based on periods of support provided to clients. These support periods vary in terms of their duration, the number of contacts between Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) workers and clients, and the reasons support ends. Some support periods are relatively short (and are likely to have begun and ended in 2014‒15) and others are much longer―many of these might have been ongoing from the previous year, or were still ongoing at the end of 2014‒15.

Certain information collected about the client (selected letters of name, date of birth and sex) is used to construct a statistical linkage key (SLK) to bring together all data about each client who had multiple support periods (either with the same agency or with different agencies).

Because some agencies may not submit client data for all months in the reporting period, and the SLK data may not be available for all clients and unassisted people, data are adjusted to account for this non-response.

All figures presented in this report and in the supplementary tables have been adjusted for agency non-response and data error in the statistical linkage key (SLK). Detailed information about the weighting and estimation strategy for 2014‒15 can be found in the Technical information section.

Data tables from which these analyses are drawn are provided as supplementary tables to this report. All percentages given are based on valid responses reported for clients, and the extent of missing data is indicated in the supplementary tables that accompany this report.

Further information about the collection, imputation methodology applied to these data and information about the quality of the data obtained through the SHSC for 2014‒15 is available in the Technical information section.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013a. Housing and occupancy costs, 2011‒12. ABS cat no. 4130.0. Canberra: ABS.
  2. ABS 2013b. Personal safety, Australia, 2012. ABS cat no. 4906.0. Canberra: ABS.
  3. ABS 2012. Census of population and housing: estimating homelessness, 2011. ABS cat no. 2049.0. Canberra: ABS.
  4. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) 2015. Reform of Federation: Discussion paper 2015. Canberra: DPMC.