Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) Specialist homelessness services annual report., AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 30 November 2021
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 Nov. 30]. 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 30 November 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
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People with disability are a diverse group, with varying types and severities of disability across all socioeconomic and demographic groups (AIHW 2020). Their pathways into and out of homelessness are just as varied, and can be influenced by disability type, location and the severity of their disability (Beer et al. 2019). People with disability may have a greater exposure to risk factors associated with homelessness than the general population (Beer et al. 2012). Low income, lack of social support, limited engagement with the labour market, compounded by the need for specialised assistance and services, can leave some people with disability increasingly vulnerable to the risk of homelessness and the negative impact of homelessness.
Timely access to safe, suitable and long-term housing can be critical to the wellbeing of people with disability. Affordable and secure housing can provide independence and the ability to participate in social, economic, sporting and cultural life. Housing that meets accessibility standards, is in close proximity to transport and to quality and affordable support services is also vital for those with disability (COAG 2011). The consequences of inadequate support may be severe for both those with physical and/or intellectual disabilities (Beer et al. 2012).
In 2018, an estimated 1 in 5 Australians (4.4 million people, or 18% of the total population) had disability (ABS 2019), ranging from mild to severe disabilities. Similar to 2006 and 2011, the 2016 Census identified around 5,700 people experiencing homelessness with disability in Australia (defined as people with a need for assistance with core activities) (ABS 2018). People with disability represented 5% of those experiencing homelessness on Census night in 2016.
Reporting clients with disability in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)
Disability is a challenging concept to measure and there are numerous definitions. The SHSC disability questions are based on identifying whether the client has any difficulty and/or need for assistance with 3 core activities (self care, mobility and communication). These questions are asked of all SHS clients.
Data for clients with disability who required assistance may not be comparable across age groups due to differences in the interpretation of the SHSC disability questions. This issue mainly relates to young children, and therefore any comparisons between age groups should be made with caution.
Further details about measuring disability in the SHSC and the definition of a client with severe or profound core activity limitation are provided in Technical information.
In 2019–20 (Table DIS.1):
Number of clients
Proportion of all clients
Rate (per 10,000 population)
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2015–16 to 2019-20.
In 2019–20, of the 6,700 clients with severe or profound disability (Supplementary table DIS.1):
In 2019–20, of the 2,700 SHS clients under 25 years living with severe or profound disability there was a higher proportion of males (58%) compared with females (42%). For those aged 25 and over, there was a greater proportion of female (54%) than males (46%).
In 2019–20, of the 6,400 SHS clients with severe or profound disability who provided information about their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status (Supplementary table DIS.8):
Indigenous clients with disability had a younger age profile than non-Indigenous clients with disability. Thirty-seven per cent of Indigenous clients with disability were aged under 18 compared with 28% of non-Indigenous clients.
In 2019–20 (Supplementary table DIS.2):
In 2019–20, of the 6,700 clients with severe or profound disability, the most common living arrangement reported at the beginning of SHS support was living alone (38% or almost 2,500 clients) (Supplementary table DIS.10). The next most common living arrangement was one parent with child/ren (27% or 1,800) and then other family (14% or over 900 clients). These proportions have been similar over time.
The majority of clients with severe or profound disability presented alone (61% or 4,100 clients) to a SHS agency in 2019–20 (Supplementary table DIS.9).
Living with disability may not be the only challenge faced by this group of SHS clients. In 2019–20, 73% (or 3,800) of clients with severe or profound disability (aged 10 and over) reported experiencing one or more selected vulnerabilities: a current mental health issue, problematic drug and/or alcohol use or family and domestic violence (Table DIS.2). The remaining 27% (or 1,400 clients) did not report any of the selected vulnerabilities.
Family and domestic violence
Mental health issue
Problematic drug and
or alcohol use
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 2019–20.
At the beginning of the first support period almost half (45%) of all clients with disability presented to services experiencing homelessness, while 55% were at risk of homelessness (where homeless status was known) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.12).
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 is expected to be fully implemented by July 2020 (DPS 2019). Further details about the NDIS are provided in 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 is receiving an agreed package of support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The NDIS question is asked of all clients at the start of support from a SHS agency. Data are not available for clients who only had support period(s) starting before 1 July 2019.
National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants
A person can be identified as being a SHS client with severe or profound disability but not be a participant in the NDIS. This may be because the client did not meet the NDIS eligibility criteria, has not applied for the NDIS or has a pending application or does not live in an area where the NDIS is available. These clients may still be receiving disability support under the National Disability Agreement (NDA). For further information regarding the number of SHS clients receiving support through the NDIS see Clients, services and outcomes.
In 2019–20, clients with profound or severe disability:
Length of support (median number of days)
Average number of support periods per client
Proportion receiving accommodation
Median number of nights accommodated
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2015-16 to 2019-20.
The episodic or cyclic nature of homelessness can be explored by analysing whether clients with severe or profound disability were new to SHS agencies, or returning clients. In 2019–20, 65% (4,300 clients) of clients with severe or profound disability had also received SHS assistance at some time since the collection began in 2011–12 (Supplementary table DIS.7). The other 35% (2,400 clients) were new clients, that is, they first accessed services in 2019–20.
In 2019–20, for SHS clients with severe or profound disability (Supplementary tables DIS.5 and DIS.6):
Four of the top 6 reasons clients with profound or severe disability sought SHS assistance were housing-related and the other 2 were financial reasons (Figure DIS.1). Of clients with disability in 2019–20:
Of the financial reasons for seeking SHS assistance:
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table DIS.3.
Other services that were needed by clients with severe or profound disability included:
The proportion of SHS clients with disability with a case management plan has increased over time (77% in 2019–20); however those achieving all case management goals has remained low (14% in 2019–20) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.35).
Outcomes presented here highlight the changes 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. A proportion of these clients may have sought assistance prior to 2019–20, and may again in the future.
In 2019–20, key features of the housing situation for clients with disability include (Table DIS.4):
SHS agencies were able to assist many clients secure or maintain housing, reducing the experience and risk of homelessness among clients with disability.
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
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. Supplementary table DIS.4.
For clients with severe or profound disability with a known housing status who were at risk of homelessness at the start of support (more than 2,200 clients), by the end of support (Figure DIS.2):
For clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support (almost 1,600 clients), agencies were able to assist (Figure DIS.3):
For more information on people with disability, see People with disability in Australia, AIHW.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2018. ABS cat. no. 4430.0. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2018. Census of population and housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2049.0. Canberra: ABS.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2020. People with disability in Australia. Cat. No. DIS 72. Canberra: AIHW.
Beer A, Baker E, Lester L, & Lyrian D 2019. The relative risk of homelessness among persons with a disability: New methods and policy insights. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 16, issue 22: 1-12
Beer A, Baker E, Mallett S, Batterham D, Pate A, & Lester, L 2012. Addressing homelessness amongst persons with disability: Identifying and enacting best practice. FaHCSIA National Homelessness Research Project. Project 1-EFBLTW. Adelaide: Centre of Housing, Urban and Regional Planning.
Beer A & Faulkner D 2009. The housing careers of people with a disability and carers of people with a disability. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute
COAG (Council of Australian Governments) 2011. National Disability Strategy 2010–2020. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
DPS (Department of Parliamentary Services) 2019. The National Disability Insurance Scheme: a quick guide. Research paper series, 2018–19. Canberra: Parliamentary Library.
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