Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Specialist homelessness services annual report. Cat. no. HOU 322. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 26 October 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Specialist homelessness services annual report. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
Specialist homelessness services annual report. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 11 December 2020, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Specialist homelessness services annual report [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020 [cited 2021 Oct. 26]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2020, Specialist homelessness services annual report, viewed 26 October 2021, 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 2019–20 are described below, including their need/s for assistance and the services they received.
The number of clients assisted by specialist homelessness agencies increased from 279,200 in 2015–16 to almost 290,500 in 2019–20; an average annual increase of 2.6% since 2011–12. The rate of SHS clients decreased from 117.2 clients per 10,000 population in 2015–16 to 114.5 clients in 2019–20 (Table CLIENTS.1).
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.
Number of clients
Rate (per 10,000 population)
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2015–16 to 2019–20.
42% of SHS clients in 2019–20 were first time clients since the collection began in 2011–12.
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 2019–20. 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 2019–20 sex of client data demonstrated some variable data quality and consistency of use among services. After detailed technical review of the data, including data quality investigations and consideration of data confidentiality issues, for the 2019–20 Annual Report these clients were combined with the ‘Female’ category for reporting purposes only. For further information, please see the Technical Information.
Figure CLIENTS.1 illustrates the age and sex distribution of SHS clients in 2019–20:
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENT.1.
Figure CLIENTS.2 illustrates the rate of SHS clients by age in 2019–20:
In 2019–20, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continued to be over-represented among SHS clients with more than one-quarter of clients (27% or almost 71,600) who provided information on their Indigenous status identifying as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin. Nationally, this equated to 798 Indigenous clients per 10,000 Indigenous population compared with a rate of 85 for non-Indigenous clients.
For further information please see Indigenous clients.
The largest number of clients accessed services in Victoria (115,300), followed by New South Wales (70,400) and Queensland (43,100) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.1), noting that clients may have accessed services in more than one state or territory.
Note: Rates are crude rates as detailed in Technical information.
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENTS.1.
Almost 9 in 10 clients (86% or 226,500 clients) of specialist homelessness agencies in 2019–20 were born in Australia (Supplementary table CLIENTS.3), higher than the general Australian population (71% were born in Australia; ABS 2019). Of those clients who reported their country of birth and were born overseas, the most common country of birth was New Zealand (2%) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.4). Over half of the clients (56%) who were born overseas had arrived in Australia in 2010 or before (Supplementary table CLIENTS.5). Almost 9 in 10 (86% or almost 31,600) clients who were born overseas lived in Major cities (Supplementary table CLIENTS.6).
Main language spoken at home other than English
In 2019–20, the most common language spoken at home by SHS clients other than English was Aboriginal English (so described) (21%), followed by Arabic (13%) and Vietnamese (4%) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.7).
Proficiency in spoken English
In 2019–20, proficiency was rated highest among clients whose main language spoken at home (other than English) was grouped as Northern European languages (other than English); with 71% of clients reporting they spoke English very well and a further 22% reporting they spoke English well. English proficiency was rated lowest among clients whose main language other than English was grouped as Eastern Asian languages, with 24% 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 risk factor for social isolation (AIHW 2017). 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 2019–20 was lone parent with 1 or more children (34% or around 91,700), followed by lone persons (30% or around 81,600) and couples with 1 or more children (13% or around 33,800) (Figure CLIENTS.4). Female clients were more likely than male clients to be living as a single parent with 1 or more children (41% females compared with 24% males) while males were more likely than females to be living alone (41% males compared with 23% females).
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENTS.10.
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.
In 2019–20, of the almost 242,000 clients aged 10 and over, 6 in 10 (62%) reported experiencing one or more of these vulnerabilities (Table CLIENTS.2):
Family and domestic violence
Mental health issue
Problematic drug and
or alcohol use
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
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, it was expected to be fully implemented by July 2020 (DPS 2019). Further details about the NDIS are provided in the Technical information.
NDIS participation indicator
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 2019–20, 3% (almost 6,400) of SHS clients indicated that they were receiving a package of support through the NDIS, ranging from 2% in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory to 4% in Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania. There was a high level of not stated responses for this indicator in 2019–20: 15% or more than 43,300 clients (Supplementary table CLIENTS.17).
Among those clients whose housing status was known at the beginning of their first support period in 2019–20:
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENTS.11.
Income support was high among SHS clients with 77% 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 2019–20 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.16). The most common government payments were Newstart Allowance (30% or about 58,300 clients), Parenting Payment (17% or 32,800) and Disability Support Pension (15% or 28,200). A total of 9% reported income from employment as their main source and 10% reported having no income.
It is important to note that as of 20 March 2020, Centrelink made changes to their payments. These changes included the introduction of a new payment—JobSeeker Payment and the removal of 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.
Of those whose educational status was known, over half of young people aged 5–24 (54% or over 47,500) were enrolled in some form of education in 2019–20 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.18). Almost 9 in 10 (85%) clients aged 5–14 were enrolled in school, 13% of clients aged 5–14 (about 4,900) were not enrolled in education. Almost 7 in 10 (69%) clients aged 15–24 were not in some form of education (around 35,500 clients).
Over 96,300 (51%) clients aged 15 or over were unemployed at the beginning of support in 2019–20 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.19). Males (57%) were more likely to be unemployed than females (47%). More than 69,700 (37%) clients were not in the labour force. More than 1 in 10 (13%) clients were employed and of these, 3 in 5 (67%) were employed on a part-time basis.
In 2019-20 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.2):
Data collected by specialist homelessness agencies are based on support periods or episodes of assistance provided to clients (see Technical information for further information). Clients may have had more than 1 support period in 2019–20, either with the same agency at different times or with different agencies. In 2019–20:
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENTS.27
26.1 million support days were provided in 2019–20.
Length of support (median number of days)
Average number of support periods per client
Proportion receiving accommodation
Median number of nights accommodated
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 (Figure CLIENTS.7). In 2019–20:
Note: Top 6 excludes "Other' reason and cases where reason was 'Not stated'.
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENTS.20.
While clients can identify a number of reasons for seeking assistance, SHS agencies also record the main reason for seeking assistance:
Note: Top 6 excludes "Other' reason and cases where reason was 'Not stated'.
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENTS.21.
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:
Note that from 26 March 2020, ‘COVID-19’ became an ‘other’ reason for seeking assistance. It could mean that the client and/or the agency were affected directly or indirectly by the crisis. Analyses on this reason is not presented in this report, however, can be found in the Specialist Homelessness Services: monthly data product.
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 2019–20:
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENTS.23.
Housing and accommodation services provided by agencies include support to access:
In 2019–20, 59% of SHS clients identified a need for accommodation services. Of these nearly 170,900 clients:
Assistance to sustain tenancy/prevent eviction was needed by 33% of clients at some stage during their support in 2019–20. 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 (77,200 clients, or about 82% of those who needed it) received assistance to sustain tenancy directly from the specialist homelessness agency.
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.
$68.7 million in financial assistance was provided to clients in 2019–20.
Around $68.7 million in financial assistance was provided to clients in 2019–20 (Figure CLIENTS.11), a 12% increase from the $61.1 million provided in 2018–19 (not adjusted for inflation). This represents an average of $976 provided per client requesting financial assistance, and an increase from $874 in 2018–19 (not adjusted for inflation).
More than three-quarters of the financial assistance was used to assist clients with housing in 2019–20.
Note: Includes financial assistance, material aid, brokerage and vouchers provided to, or on behalf, of the client during the reporting period.
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENTS.36.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, need for assistance has increased. This increased demand has resulted in some jurisdictions increasing funding for SHS services. For example, Victoria provided almost $6 million in additional funding to SHS agencies in March and April in 2020. This increased funding was primarily aimed at purchasing short-term emergency accommodation and maintaining tenancies in mostly rental accommodation.
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 2019–20. 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 2019–20 is compared with the end of their last period of support in 2019–20.
Clients whose support period(s) both opened and closed in 2019–20 accounted for 75% of all clients (Figure CLIENTS.6). A proportion of these clients may have sought assistance prior to 2019–20, and may seek assistance again in future years.
Three aspects of a client’s housing situation are considered in their housing circumstances: dwelling type, housing tenure and the conditions of occupancy. See Technical information 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.
Beginning of support
Beginning of support
No shelter or improvised/inadequate dwelling
Short term temporary accommodation
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
Total clients with known housing situation
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection. Supplementary table CLIENTS.30.
In general terms, for those clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support, agencies were able to assist clients into temporary accommodation and sometimes into public or community housing or private or other housing. SHS agencies were also often successful in preventing those known to be at risk of homelessness from becoming homeless during support (Supplementary table CLIENTS.30, Interactive data visualisation).
For clients with closed support in 2019–20 who were homeless on presentation to SHS agencies (Supplementary table CLIENTS.30, Interactive data visualisation):
Other outcomes for clients
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 2019–20:
Case management plans enable agency workers to assist a client to work towards agreed goals. In some cases, support periods are too short to allow for development of a case management plan; for example, when a client stays for a 24-hour period or less. In other cases, a client may decline a case management plan. Case management approaches can differ across SHS agencies and over time as state and territory policies and practices change. In 2019–20:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Census of population and housing: Reflecting Australia - Stories from the Census, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2071.0 Canberra: ABS.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Migration, Australia, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 3412.0. Canberra: ABS.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. Australia’s welfare 2017, Australia’s welfare series no. 13. Cat. no. AUS 214. Canberra: AIHW.
De Vaus, D. & Qu, L. (2015). Demographics of living alone (Australian Family Trends No. 6). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
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