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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Stable and secure housing is fundamentally important to health and well-being. Historically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to experience insecure housing, live in overcrowded dwellings and experience homelessness, including intergenerational homelessness than non-Indigenous Australians (AIHW 2019). Indigenous Australians continue to be over-represented in both the national homeless population and as users of specialist homelessness services (see Clients, services and outcomes and ABS 2018). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 3.1% of the Australian population (ABS 2019), yet they made up 27% of the clients (an estimated 71,600 clients) assisted by specialist homelessness services (SHS) in 2019–20. It is important to note that Indigenous status was not reported for 8% of SHS clients in 2019–20 (similar to 2018–19; 9%).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 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 Australians (AIHW 2019).
Over 271,200 Indigenous clients have been supported by homelessness agencies since the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC) began in 2011–12. The number of Indigenous clients has been steadily increasing over this time. The key trends identified were (Table INDIGENOUS.1):
Number of clients
Proportion of all clients where Indigenous status reported
Rate (per 10,000 population)
Rate difference (per 10,000 population)
Remoteness rate (per 10,000 population)
1. Rates were directly age-standardised as detailed in the Technical information section. Minor adjustments in rates may occur between publications reflecting revision of the estimated resident population by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
2. Rate ratio is the Indigenous rate divided by the Non-Indigenous rate and is used to compare the 2 service use rates. Rate difference reveals the gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous rates.
3. Data for 2015–16 to 2016–17 have been adjusted for non-response. Due to improvements in the rates of agency participation and SLK validity, data from 2017–18 are not weighted. The removal of weighting does not constitute a break in time series and weighted data from 2015–16 to 2016–17 are comparable with unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards. For further information, please refer to the Technical Notes.
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2015–16 to 2019–20.
In 2019–20 (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.1):
In 2019–20 (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.2 and 5):
In 2019–20, over half of the Indigenous clients presenting to a SHS agency presented alone (55% or 39,500 clients) and a further 34% (or 24,400 clients) presented as a single parent with child/ren (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.8).
In 2019–20, at the beginning of support (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.9):
SHS clients can face additional vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to becoming homeless, in particular family and domestic violence, a current mental health issue and problematic drug and/or alcohol use. Over half (55% or 30,900) of Indigenous SHS clients aged 10 years and over reported 1 or more of these vulnerabilities. In 2019–20 (Table INDIGENOUS.2):
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.
In 2019–20, at the beginning of the first support period, more than half (54%) of clients whose Indigenous status was known presented to services at risk of homelessness, while over 2 in 5 (46%) were experiencing homelessness. These proportions have remained consistent since 2015–16 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.12).
Since 2015–16, the number of Indigenous clients seeking assistance from SHS agencies has increased. Key trends identified in this client population are (Table INDIGENOUS.3):
Length of support (median number of days)
Average number of support periods per client
Proportion receiving accommodation
Median number of nights accommodated
1. The denominator for the proportion receiving accommodation is all Indigenous SHS clients. Denominator values for proportions are provided in the relevant supplementary table.
2. Data for 2015–16 to 2016–17 have been adjusted for non-response. Due to improvements in the rates of agency participation and SLK validity, data from 2017–18 are not weighted. The removal of weighting does not constitute a break in time series and weighted data from 2015–16 to 2016–17 are comparable with unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards. For further information, please refer to the Technical Notes.
In 2019–20, there were more returning Indigenous clients (65%) (that is, those who had received SHS services at some point since the collection began in 2011–12) than there were new Indigenous clients (35%) (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.6). The proportion of returning non-Indigenous clients was lower (57%).
The three most common main reasons why Indigenous clients sought assistance from SHS agencies in 2019–20 were (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.7):
In 2019–20, 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).
Other services commonly needed by Indigenous clients during 2019–20 were:
Assistance for family and domestic violence was another frequently requested service (28%), with 88% of clients with this need having such assistance provided.
Around 1 in 3 Indigenous clients needed long-term (38%, provided to 4%) or medium-term/transitional housing (30%, provided to 27%) (similar proportions were recorded for non-Indigenous clients).
For some general services, needs were higher for Indigenous clients when compared with non-Indigenous clients, including meals (31% compared with 12%), laundry/shower facilities (24% compared with 9%) and transport (31% compared with 15%).
The proportion of Indigenous clients with a case management plan has remained comparatively consistent over time (69% in 2019–20); however the proportion achieving all case management goals has declined (20% in 2019–20, down from 24% in 2018–19) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.35).
Outcomes presented here describe the changes in a client’s 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 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 support period in 2019–20 is compared with the end of their last support period 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 (INDIGENOUS.4):
These trends demonstrate that by the end of support, many clients have achieved or progressed towards a more positive housing solution. That is, the proportion of clients ending support known to be housed but at risk of homelessness had increased compared with the start of support, and the proportion who were homeless had decreased.
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 INDIGENOUS.4.
In 2019–20, 44,700 clients had a known housing status at both the start and end of support. Of these clients, more than 25,200 were at risk of homelessness at the start of support, by the end of support (Figure INDIGENOUS.1):
A smaller number were experiencing homelessness at the end of support (around 2,800 clients or 11% of those who started support at risk of homelessness).
1. Excludes clients with unknown situation.
2. Includes only those clients who ceased receiving support during the financial year (meaning that their support period(s) had closed and they were not in ongoing support at the end of the year).
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2019–20.
For clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support (almost 19,500 clients), by the end of support, agencies were able to assist (Figure INDIGENOUS.2):
A further 5,200 clients (27%) were couch surfing at the end of support.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018. Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2049.0. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2019. Australian demographic statistics, Jun 2019. ABS Cat. no. 3101.0. Canberra: ABS.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: a focus report on housing and homelessness. Cat. no. HOU 301. Canberra: AIHW.
AHRC (Australian Human Rights Commission) 2017. Face the facts: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Webpage viewed 20 November 2018.
CFFR (Council on Federal Financial Relations) 2018. National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. Viewed 23 January 2019.
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