Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2021) Specialist homelessness services annual report 2020–21, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 29 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Specialist homelessness services annual report 2020–21. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
Specialist homelessness services annual report 2020–21. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 07 December 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Specialist homelessness services annual report 2020–21 [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2022 May. 29]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Specialist homelessness services annual report 2020–21, viewed 29 May 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
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Specialist homelessness agencies provide a wide range of services to assist those who are experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness, ranging from general support and assistance to immediate crisis accommodation. Characteristics of all clients assisted by specialist homelessness services (SHS) in 2020–21 are described below, including their need/s for assistance and the services they received.
The number of clients assisted by specialist homelessness agencies increased to almost 278,300 in 2020–21 from 236,400 in 2011–12; an average annual increase of 1.8% since 2011–12. The rate of SHS clients increased from 105.8 clients per 10,000 population in 2011–12 to 108.3 clients in 2020–21 (Table HIST.CLIENTS).
It is important to note, the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC) data provide a measure of service response. Changes in client numbers reflect the agency engagement of people which is not necessarily a change in the underlying level of homelessness in Australia.
In 2020–21, 39% of SHS clients were first time clients since the collection began in July 2011. The characteristics of clients, the main reasons for seeking assistance, and the services that had been supplied to clients, have remained relatively stable over the 5 years to 2020–21. Key changes include:
Reporting sex in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)
The additional category ‘Other’ has been added to the question which records the person’s sex and applies to support periods and unassisted instances starting on or after 1 July 2019. Analysis of the updated 2020–21 sex of client data demonstrated some variable data quality and consistency of use among services. Consistent to the approach adopted for the 2019–20 Annual Report, for the 2020–21 Annual Report these clients were combined with the ‘Female’ category for reporting purposes only. For further information, please see the Technical notes.
In 2020–21 (Figure CLIENTS.1):
This interactive horizontal population pyramid shows the marked differences between the age profiles of male and female SHS clients. Data are presented for the number of SHS clients, the rate of service use of SHS clients, and the number of support periods. The highest numbers of male clients were aged 0 to 9 years while females aged 25–34 were the age group with the highest number.
In 2020–21, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continued to be over-represented among SHS clients with more than one-quarter of clients (28% or almost 73,300) who provided information on their Indigenous status identifying as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.2). Nationally, this equated to 810.6 Indigenous clients per 10,000 Indigenous population compared with a rate of 80.2 for non-Indigenous clients.
For further information please see Indigenous clients.
The largest number of clients accessed services in Victoria (105,500), followed by New South Wales (70,600) and Queensland (41,200) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.1), noting that clients may have accessed services in more than one state or territory.
This interactive bar graph shows the number of SHS clients, the rate of service use of SHS clients, and the number of support periods, for each of the states and territories. The Northern Territory had the highest rate and Queensland had the lowest rate.
Almost 9 in 10 clients (87% or 222,750 clients) of specialist homelessness agencies in 2020–21 were born in Australia (Supplementary table CLIENTS.3), higher than the general Australian population (70% were born in Australia; ABS 2021). Of those clients who reported their country of birth and were born overseas, the most common country of birth was New Zealand (1.6%) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.4). Over half of clients (58%) who were born overseas had arrived in Australia in 2011 or before (Supplementary table CLIENTS.5). Almost 9 in 10 (86% or almost 28,700) clients who were born overseas lived in Major cities (Supplementary table CLIENTS.6).
Main language spoken at home other than English
In 2020–21, the most common language spoken at home by SHS clients other than English was Aboriginal English (so described) (22%), followed by Arabic (11%) and Vietnamese (3.2%) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.7).
Proficiency in spoken English
In 2020–21, proficiency was highest among clients whose main language spoken at home (other than English) was grouped as Northern European languages (other than English), with 74% of clients reporting they spoke English very well and a further 20% reporting they spoke English well. English proficiency was lowest among clients whose main language other than English was grouped as Eastern Asian languages, with 25% rating their English proficiency as very well (Supplementary table CLIENTS.8).
Living alone may be a sign of social disadvantage (De Vaus and Qu 2015). For some, it is associated with lower income, low participation in the labour force and lower levels of education. Living alone has also been shown to be a substantial risk factor for loneliness (AIHW 2021). With limited economic resources and social networks, lone persons may be more vulnerable to homelessness. In 2016, 24% of households in Australia consisted of a lone person (ABS 2017).
The most common living arrangement reported by clients at the beginning of support in 2020–21 was lone parent with 1 or more children (33% or over 84,900), followed by lone persons (32% or over 82,000) and other family groups (13% or about 32,400) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.10). Female clients were more likely than male clients to be living as a single parent with 1 or more children (39% females compared with 23% males) while males were more likely than females to be living alone (42% males compared with 24% females). Among the states and territories, Tasmania (45%) and the Australian Capital Territory (44%) had higher proportions of SHS clients living alone than the national rate (32%). Queensland (38%) had the highest proportion of clients living as a single parent with child/ren.
Many clients face additional challenges that may make them more vulnerable to experiencing homelessness. The selected additional vulnerabilities presented here include family and domestic violence, experiencing a current mental health issue and/or problematic drug and/or alcohol use. Clients may have one or any of these additional selected vulnerabilities.
In 2020–21, of the more than 234,000 clients aged 10 and over, 3 in 5 (63%) reported experiencing one or more of the selected vulnerabilities (Supplementary table CLIENTS.43, Figure CLIENTS.3):
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) supports people with a permanent and significant disability which affects their ability to take part in everyday activities. It is jointly governed and funded by the Australian and participating states and territory governments. The NDIS began its national rollout on 1 July 2016, and had been made available to all eligible Australians as of 1 July 2020 (NDIS 2020). Further details about the NDIS are provided in the Technical notes.
The NDIS participation indicator was introduced into the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC) from 1 July 2019. A participant in the NDIS is an individual who reports they are receiving an agreed package of support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The NDIS question is asked of all clients at the start of a support period by SHS agency. Data are only available for clients who only had support period(s) starting from 1 July 2019 onwards.
In 2020–21, 4.1% (around 9,500) of SHS clients indicated that they were receiving a package of support through the NDIS, ranging from 2.1% in the Northern Territory to 5.8% in Victoria. There was a high level of not stated responses for this measure: around 42,000 clients in 2020–21 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.17), similar to the previous year.
Among those clients whose housing status was known at the beginning of their first support period in 2020–21 (supplementary table CLIENTS.11):
Of those clients with no shelter/improvised dwelling (more than 24,300 clients), 45% were sleeping in no dwelling, either on the street, in a park or out in the open and a further 22% (1 in 5) were sleeping in a car (Supplementary table CLIENTS.13).
Income support was high among SHS clients with 81% of clients aged 15 and over receiving some form of government payment as their main source of income at the time they sought support in 2020–21 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.16). The most common government payments were JobSeeker (33% or 60,350 clients), Parenting Payment (17% or 30,900) and Disability Support Pension (15% or 27,700). Around 1 in 10 (8.7%) of clients reported income from employment as their main source and 9.1% reported having no income.
As of 20 March 2020, JobSeeker Payment was introduced to replace Newstart Allowance. Existing recipients of Newstart Allowance were transferred to the new JobSeeker Payment. From this date, if a client reports that they are receiving ‘JobSeeker Payment’ it is recorded under the existing ‘Newstart Allowance’ category. During this time, JobKeeper payment was also introduced, to help businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to cover the costs of their employees’ wages, and for employees to retain jobs and continue to earn an income. As the JobKeeper payment is made to businesses and not individuals, if a client reports they are receiving ‘JobKeeper Payment’ it is recorded under the ‘Employee income’ category.
Of those whose educational status was known, over half of clients aged 5–24 (54% or over 45,300) were enrolled in some form of education in 2020–21 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.18). Almost 9 in 10 (87%) clients aged 5–14 were enrolled in school or other types of education, 13% of clients aged 5–14 (about 4,300) were not enrolled in education. Around two-thirds (68%) of clients aged 15–24 were not in some form of education (around 34,200 clients).
Around 97,100 (53%) clients aged 15 or over were unemployed at the beginning of support in 2020–21 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.19). Males (59%) were more likely to be unemployed than females (49%). Almost 64,000 (35%) clients were not in the labour force. More than 1 in 10 (13%) clients were employed and of these, 3 in 5 (61%) were employed on a part-time basis.
Data collected by specialist homelessness agencies are based on support periods or episodes of assistance provided to clients (see Technical notes for further information). Clients may have had more than 1 support period in 2020–21, either with the same agency at different times or with different agencies. In 2020–21:
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2020–21, Supplementary table CLIENTS.27
In 2020–21, 27.7 million support days were provided by SHS agencies to clients.
The SHSC includes information about clients’ needs for services from two perspectives:
Technical information and Glossary provide more information about how clients’ needs for assistance are captured in the SHSC.
Services provided to clients range from the direct provision of accommodation, such as a bed in a shelter, to more specialised services such as counselling and legal support. These services are generally either provided to the client directly by the agency or the client is referred to another service. Unmet need provides further information about clients’ needs that went unmet.
SHS clients can identify a number of reasons for seeking assistance, reflecting the range of situations that contribute to housing instability. SHS agencies also record the main reason for clients seeking assistance. In terms of the reasons why clients generally sought assistance in 2020–21 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.20):
The main reasons for seeking assistance in 2020–21 were similar to the reasons why clients generally sought assistance from SHS agencies (Supplementary table CLIENTS.21, Figure CLIENTS.6):
For those clients presenting at risk of homelessness, the most common main reasons for seeking assistance were (Supplementary table CLIENTS.22):
For those clients presenting as homeless, the most common main reasons for seeking assistance were:
Housing and accommodation services provided by agencies include support to access:
In 2020–21, 60% of SHS clients identified a need for accommodation services. Of these 166,900 clients:
Assistance to sustain tenancy/prevent eviction was needed by 32% of clients at some stage during their support in 2020–21. This group includes those who were still housed when they approached a SHS agency and were supported to remain in that housing. It also includes those who identified a need for accommodation, were assisted to secure new housing and then supported to sustain that housing. Most clients (74,000 clients, or about 82% of those who needed it) received assistance to sustain tenancy directly from the specialist homelessness agency.
Some types of assistance provided by SHS agencies can be described as ‘general support and assistance’, compared with more specialised services. These services include advice and information, material aid, meals and living skills. In 2020–21:
Specialised services refer to those services that require specific knowledge or skills and are usually undertaken by someone with qualifications to provide the particular service.
In 2020–21, $109.4 million in financial assistance was provided to clients.
Around $109.4 million in financial assistance was provided to clients in 2020–21, a 59% increase from the $68.7 million provided in 2019–20 (not adjusted for inflation). This represents an average of $1,592 provided per client requesting financial assistance, and an increase from $976 in 2019–20 (not adjusted for inflation) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.25, Supplementary table CLIENTS.36).
The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to increase people’s need for housing assistance. In response to this increased need, state and territory governments have implemented a range of funding assistance measures. Some of these measures have been aimed at purchasing short-term emergency accommodation and maintaining tenancies in mostly rental accommodation. For more information, see Policy framework for reducing homelessness and service response.
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. Around 3 in 5 (163,600 clients or 59%) clients had support periods in 2020–21 that were both opened and closed and were non-ongoing at the end of the 2020–21 financial year.
Many clients had long periods of support or even multiple support periods during 2020–21. 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 2020–21 is compared with the end of their last period of support in 2020–21.
Three aspects of a client’s housing situation are considered in their housing circumstances: dwelling type, housing tenure and the conditions of occupancy. See Data presentation and derivation for details on how each of these categories are derived.
These trends demonstrate that by the end of support, many clients have achieved or progressed towards a more positive housing solution. That is, clients ending support in public or community housing (renter or rent-free) or private or other housing (renter or rent-free) had increased compared with the start of support.
This interactive Sankey diagram shows the housing situation (including rough sleeping, couch surfing, short term accommodation, public/community housing, private housing and institutional settings) of clients with closed support periods at first presentation and at the end of support. The diagram shows clients’ housing situation journey from start to end of support. Most clients started and ended support in private or other housing.
Specialist homelessness agencies may support clients in a number of non-housing areas to reduce their vulnerability to homelessness. These include changes in educational enrolment status, labour force status and income. In 2020–21:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2021. Migration, Australia, 2019–20. ABS Cat. No. 3412.0. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2017. Census of population and housing: Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census, 2016. ABS Cat. No. 2071.0 Canberra: ABS.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2021. Australia’s welfare 2021: Data insights. Cat. no. AUS 236. Canberra: AIHW.
De Vaus, D. & Qu, L. (2015). Demographics of living alone (Australian Family Trends No. 6). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) 2020. Delivering the NDIS: roll-out complete across Australia as Christmas and Cocos Islands join world-leading scheme. Viewed 29 July 2021.
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