Indigenous clients

Key findings: Indigenous SHS clients, 2022–23

This image highlights a number of key finding concerning Indigenous clients. Around 74,700 SHS clients in 2022–23 were Indigenous clients; more than two-thirds had previously been assisted at some point since July 2011  ; 20% were in private housing at the start of support; half were under the age of 25; and around 36% were experiencing family and domestic violence.

Historically, Indigenous people have been over-represented among people experiencing homelessness and among those receiving assistance with housing. 

Indigenous people make up around 3.2% of the Australian population (ABS 2022a) yet they made up around 20% (24,900 persons) of the estimated number of people experiencing homelessness on Census night in 2021 (ABS 2023) and over one-quarter or 29% of the clients (an estimated 74,700 clients) assisted by specialist homelessness services (SHS) in 2022–23. 

Severe overcrowding as a form of homelessness is particularly prevalent in Indigenous families and communities, especially in remote and very remote areas. Indigenous people are about 3 times as likely to live in overcrowded conditions than non-Indigenous Australians (AIHW 2023) and almost 3 times as likely to need one or more extra bedrooms compared with other households (ABS 2022b), even though the Census estimates may under-represent the extent of homelessness among Indigenous people.

Findings from the House of Representatives Standing Committee Inquiry into Homelessness (HRSC 2021) recommended a review of the data collection and estimation methods, particularly for Indigenous people. The inquiry recommended greater inclusion of Indigenous cultural practices and perspectives, particularly regarding the circumstances in which persons living in severely crowded dwellings and boarding houses should be categorised as homeless. 

The findings also highlighted the effectiveness and appropriateness of Indigenous community-controlled housing services, and recommended the development of a national integrated approach to housing and homelessness services for Indigenous people, co-designed with Indigenous community-controlled organisations and grounded in the principle of self-determination. A framework that has a flexible, culturally appropriate approach to service delivery, employs experienced and dedicated staff and encourages collaboration with broader service providers could assist to achieve positive outcomes to securing appropriate and affordable housing (AHURI 2022).

The 2020 National Agreement on Closing the Gap includes the socio-economic outcome that Indigenous people can secure appropriate, affordable housing that is aligned with their priorities and need (COAG 2022). Under this outcome, by 2031, the proportion of Indigenous people living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing aims to be 88%. Key indicators to measure the progress made against the target include the homelessness rate, including by type (e.g. transitional housing/sleeping rough) and age group.

Under Closing the Gap, housing is one of five policy priority areas identified as requiring joined up approaches between the Commonwealth, states and territories and Indigenous representatives, to identify opportunities to work more effectively across governments, reduce gaps and duplication, and improve outcomes. Housing is also one of four sectors that have been identified for joint national sector strengthening plans. The Housing Sector Strengthening Plan was approved by the Joint Council on Closing the Gap on 26 August 2022 and is in the initial phases of implementation. 

Indigenous people are a national priority cohort in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which came into effect 1 July 2018 (CFFR 2018) (see Policy section for more information). This agreement provides a framework for all levels of government to work together to improve housing and homelessness outcomes for Indigenous people (AIHW 2019).

Around 340,000 Indigenous clients have been supported by homelessness agencies since the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC) began in July 2011. The number of Indigenous clients has steadily increased over this time (Historical data table HIST.INDIGENOUS). It is important to note that changes in the number of Indigenous clients over time may also reflect improved Indigenous status data among people receiving SHS support. That is, there has been a substantial decrease in the proportion of SHS clients with ‘not stated’ Indigenous status over time, from 15% (35,600 clients) in 2011–12 to 5.4% (14,700 clients) in 2022–23.

  • The rate of service use by Indigenous clients increased from 753.8 clients per 10,000 Indigenous population in 2017–18 to 812.5 in 2022–23.
  • The ratio of the rate of service use between Indigenous clients compared with non-Indigenous clients has increased, from 8.8 in 2017–18 to 10.3 in 2022–23.
  • The total number of Indigenous clients who received support from SHS agencies increased by an average rate of 5.0% annually over the 12 years to 2022–23, more than 3 times the increase of non-Indigenous clients (1.4% over the same period).

Client characteristics

Figure INDIGENOUS.1: Key demographics, Indigenous SHS clients, 2022–23

This interactive image describes the characteristics of around 74,700 Indigenous clients who received SHS support in 2022–23. Most clients were female, aged 18–34. The number of Indigenous clients has been increasing. New South Wales had the greatest number of Indigenous clients and Victoria had the highest rate of Indigenous clients per 10,000 population. The majority of clients had previously been assisted by a SHS agency since July 2011. More than half were at risk of homelessness at the start of support. 38% of Indigenous clients received SHS support in major cities, compared with 68% of non-Indigenous clients.

Indigenous clients most commonly experienced family and domestic violence (29,400 clients, or 39% of all Indigenous clients), had a current mental health issue (18,500, or 25%) and/or were young people presenting alone to SHS agencies (11,800 or 16%) (Table INDIGENOUS.1).

 Table INDIGENOUS.1: Indigenous clients, by client group type, 2022–23 
Client group typeClients (number)Clients (per cent of total client group)Clients (per cent of all Indigenous clients)
All Indigenous SHS clients74,400100
Clients who have experienced family and domestic violence29,3992939
Clients with a current mental health issue18,5482225
Young people presenting alone11,7553216
Clients with problematic drug or alcohol issues7,4583210
Older clients4,777196.4
Children on a care and protection order2,667353.6
Clients exiting custodial arrangements2,258283.0
Clients with disability1,800252.4
Clients leaving care1,564272.1
Clients who are current or former members of the Australian Defence Force254180.3

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, Supplementary table CLIENTS.43 and INDIGENOUS.1.

Note: Sum of client group types will not add to the total, as clients may be in more than one client group type.

Presenting unit

In 2022–23, over half of Indigenous clients presenting to a SHS agency presented alone (58% or 43,600 clients) and a further 32% (or 23,900 clients) presented as a single parent with child/ren (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.9).

Living arrangements

In 2022–23, at the beginning of support (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.10):

  • Indigenous clients (35% or about 24,900 clients) were most likely living as a single parent with child(ren).
  • One in 4 (around 19,500 or 27%) Indigenous clients were living alone.
  • A further 17% (or around 12,100) Indigenous clients were living with other family.

Selected vulnerabilities

SHS clients can face additional vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to experiencing homelessness, in particular family and domestic violence, a current mental health issue and problematic drug and/or alcohol use (Supplementary table CLIENTS.47).

  • Less than half (44% or around 26,600) Indigenous clients did not experience any of the selected vulnerabilities, which was higher than the rate for all SHS clients (41%).
  • Indigenous clients had a higher rate of reported problematic drug and alcohol use (12% compared with 10% for all SHS clients), a similar rate of Indigenous clients reported experiencing family and domestic violence (36% compared with 35% for all SHS clients), and a lower proportion of Indigenous clients reported experiencing a mental health issue (31% compared with 37% for all SHS clients).

Figure INDIGENOUS.2: Indigenous clients, by selected vulnerability characteristics, 2022–23

This interactive bar graph shows the number of Indigenous SHS clients also experiencing additional vulnerabilities, including family and domestic violence, having a current mental health issue and problematic drug and/or alcohol use. The graph shows both the number of clients experiencing a single vulnerability only, as well as combinations of vulnerabilities, and presents data for each state and territory.

Service use patterns

The median length of support received by Indigenous clients increased to 58 days in 2022–23, up from 48 days in 2017–18. The average number of support periods per client was 1.8 in 2022–23. The median number of nights accommodated decreased from 20 in 2017–18 to 18 in 2022–23 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.48).

New or returning clients

In 2022–23, around 70% of Indigenous clients were returning clients (that is, clients who had received SHS services at some point since the collection began in July 2011), higher than the proportion of returning non-Indigenous clients (61%) (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.7). 

Main reason for seeking assistance

Indigenous clients most commonly sought assistance from SHS agencies in 2022–23 for the following main reasons (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.8):

  • family and domestic violence (24% or 17,800 clients)
  • housing crisis (19% or 14,000 clients)
  • inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (13% or more than 9,200 clients).

Services needed and provided

In 2022–23, the need for accommodation assistance was broadly similar between Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients, with the exception of short-term or emergency accommodation (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.3).

Half of Indigenous clients (51% or 37,900) needed short-term or emergency accommodation, higher than the proportion of non-Indigenous clients (38% or 69,300). Two-thirds of Indigenous clients who needed short-term or emergency accommodation received this support (64%); a higher proportion than non-Indigenous clients (55%).

For some general services, needs were higher for Indigenous clients when compared with non-Indigenous clients, including meals (28% compared with 11%), laundry/shower facilities (21% compared with 7.1%) and transport (25% compared with 13%).

Figure INDIGENOUS.3: Indigenous clients, by services needed and provided, 2022–23

This interactive stacked horizontal bar graph shows the services needed by Indigenous clients and their provision status. Material aid/brokerage was the most provided service. Short-term housing was the most needed service and provided to around two-thirds of clients. Long-term housing was the least provided service. 

Housing situation and outcomes

In 2022–23, at the beginning of the first support period, half (50%) of clients whose Indigenous status and housing status was known presented to services at risk of homelessness (down from 53% in 2018–19) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.12).

Outcomes presented here highlight the changes in clients’ housing situation at the start and end of support. That is, the place they were residing before and after they were supported by a SHS agency. The information presented is limited only to clients who have stopped receiving support during the financial year, and who were no longer receiving ongoing support from a SHS agency. In particular, information on client housing situations at the start of their first period of support during 2022–23 is compared with the end of their last period of support in 2022–23. As such, this information does not cover any changes to housing situation during a support period.

By the end of support, many clients have achieved or progressed towards a more positive housing solution. That is, the number and/or proportion of 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.

For Indigenous clients with closed support (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.4):

  • At the start of support, Indigenous clients were about 3.5 times as likely to be in public or community housing (30%) compared with non-Indigenous clients (8.9%), while non-Indigenous clients were about twice as likely to be in private or other housing (43%) compared with Indigenous clients (20%).
  • At the end of support, Indigenous clients were about 2.6 times as likely to be in public or community housing (39%) compared with non-Indigenous clients (16%), while non-Indigenous clients were about more than twice as likely to be in private or other housing (48%) compared with Indigenous clients (23%).
  • At the end of support, fewer Indigenous clients were known to be experiencing homelessness, decreasing from 47% at the start of support to 37% at the end; more Indigenous clients were living in housing with some form of tenure, mainly an increase in clients living in public or community housing (from 30% to 39%).

Figure INDIGENOUS.4: Housing situation for Indigenous clients with closed support, 2022–23

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 Indigenous 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 public housing.