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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There is a strong association between problematic alcohol or other drug use and experiences of homelessness (AIHW 2020). Problematic drug and/or alcohol use can be a pathway into homelessness or develop while experiencing homelessness (Robinson 2014; Johnson & Chamberlain 2008). It can lock people into homelessness and compound the effects of limited service engagement and increased social isolation. Problematic alcohol or other drug use is related to several homelessness risk factors, including low socioeconomic status and family and domestic violence (Lalor 2020). The Journeys Home project identified that people were more likely to have risky levels of alcohol and drug use, the longer they were homeless (Scutella et al. 2014).
People with problematic drug and/or alcohol use are at great risk of serious and preventable health issues and death, particularly those who are homeless (AIHW 2020). They are also likely to have the most persistent and challenging problems (Johnson & Chamberlain 2008; Scutella et al. 2014).
SHS clients aged 10 and over are reported in the SHSC with problematic drug and/or alcohol use if, at the beginning of or during support, the client provided any of the following information:
The identification of clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use may be current or recent; referring to issues at presentation, just prior to receiving support or at least once in the 12 months prior to support.
For more information see Technical information.
In 2019–20 (Table SUB.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 clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use (Supplementary table SUB.1):
Indigenous clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use had a younger age profile than non-Indigenous clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use. That is:
Almost 9 in 10 clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use (87% or almost 24,800) presented to services for assistance alone, higher than for all SHS clients (61%). A further 8% (or more than 2,300) of clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use presented with one or more children, which is much lower than for all SHS clients (29%).
Similarly, the types of living arrangements reported by SHS clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use at the beginning of support were quite different from the overall SHS population and other client groups.
In 2019–20 (Supplementary tables SUB.10 and CLIENTS.10):
Most clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use face additional challenges which may make them more vulnerable to homelessness. The selected additional vulnerabilities presented here include family and domestic violence and/or a current mental health issue.
In 2019–20 (Table SUB.2):
Family and domestic violence
Mental health issue
Problematic drug and
or alcohol use
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20.
At the beginning of the first support period, more than half (58%) of all clients with a problematic drug and/or alcohol use were experiencing homelessness when they presented to services for assistance, while 42% were at risk of homelessness (Supplementary table CLIENTS.12).
Clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use (see Tables SUB.3) received:
Length of support (median number of days)
Average number of support periods per client
Proportion receiving accommodation
Median number of nights accommodated
In 2019–20 (Supplementary table SUB 7):
In 2019–20, the main reasons clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use presented to SHS agencies were:
Few clients (5%) with problematic drug and/or alcohol use reported substance use issues as the main reason for seeking SHS assistance.
In 2019–20, the top 6 needs reported by SHS clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use mainly related to housing and tenure (Figure SUB.1). Key features include:
In 2019–20, more than one-third (35% or 9,800 clients) of clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use identified a need for drug or alcohol based services (Supplementary table SUB.3):
Excludes 'Other basic assistance, 'Advice/information' and 'Advocacy/liaison on behalf of client'.
'Short-term accomodation' includes temporary and emergeny accomodation and sustain tenancy/prevent eviction includes asssistance to sustain tenancy or prevent failure or eviction.
'Neither' indicates a service was neither provided nor referred.
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table SUB.3.
The proportion of SHS clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use with a case management plan in 2019–20 was relatively high (74%); however, those achieving all case management goals was low (13%) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.35). This group remains one of the least likely of all SHS client groups to meet all goals.
Outcomes presented here highlight the changes in clients’ housing situation between the start and end of support. Data are 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 2019–20 reporting period.
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 (Table SUB.4):
While overall housing outcome figures generally reflect trends towards more favourable housing, experiences of homelessness, particularly rough sleeping, appear to be more common for clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use both at the start and end of SHS 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 SUB.4.
For clients with a known housing status who were at risk of homelessness at the start of support (almost 6,600 clients), by the end of support (Figure SUB.2):
A smaller number were experiencing homelessness at the end of support (around 1,500 clients or 22% of those who started support at risk).
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2019–20
For clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support (just over 8,500 clients), agencies were able to assist (Figure SUB.3):
A further 1,700 clients (20%) were couch surfing at the end of support and 1,400 clients (17%) were rough sleeping at the end of support.
The characteristics of people with problematic drug and/or alcohol use as well as their service use patterns and housing outcomes were different from the other client groups presented in this report. Clients with problematic drug and/or alcohol use were more likely to be male, present to agencies alone and be homeless at first presentation compared with overall SHS clients. They were also more likely to be returning clients and use support services to a greater extent.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2020. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. AIHW Cat. no: PHE 221. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 6 August 2020.
Kaleveld L, Seivwright A, Box E, Callis Z & Flatau P 2018. Homelessness in Western Australia: A review of the research and statistical evidence. Perth: Government of Western Australia, Department of Communities. Viewed 27/06/2019
Johnson C & Chamberlain G 2008. Homelessness and substance abuse: which comes first? Australian Social Work, 61(4) Viewed 1 February 2018.
Lalor, E., 2020. Inquiry into Homelessness in Victoria.
Robinson C 2014. Trauma: A cause and consequence of homelessness. In: Chamberlain C, Johnson G, Robinson C (eds.) Homelessness in Australia. Sydney, NSW: NewSouth Publishing.
Scutella R, Chigavazira A, Killackey E, Herault N, Johnson G, Moshcion J & Wooden M 2014. Journeys Home Research Report No. 4 Findings from Waves 1 to 4: Special Topics. University of Melbourne.
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