Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Specialist homelessness services annual report. Cat. no. HOU 322. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 23 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. 23]. 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 23 October 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-annual-report
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Specialist homelessness services (SHS) in Australia supported, on average, an estimated 66,100 people each day in 2019–20. However, there were also people who approached agencies who were unable to be offered any assistance or who did not receive all the services that they required.
Unmet demand, as reported here, consists of both unassisted requests for service and unmet client needs. It only measures unmet demand for people who approach SHS agencies and is therefore not a measure of the population level unmet demand for support. Results from the 2014 General Social Survey suggest that 67% of those who had experienced homelessness in the ten years prior did not approach an organisation for support during their latest homelessness episode, possibly because most stayed with friends or relatives during periods of homelessness (ABS 2015).
For those that do approach an SHS agency, there may be a range of reasons an agency cannot provide assistance. For example, the person may be seeking a specialised service not offered by that particular agency, the agency may not have the capacity to provide assistance at that time or the person may not be in the target group for the agency. An Australian Council of Social Service survey found that, in 2019, 76% of staff in housing and homelessness services reported an increase in the number of clients they were unable to support and 36% reported rarely or never being able to meet demand (ACOSS 2019).
Identifying unassisted requests for services in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)
Unassisted requests for services are instances where a person requests assistance from a SHS agency and receives no assistance at the time of request. The SHSC captures limited information about unassisted requests for services, as it is not always appropriate for an agency to collect the same detailed information as they would if the person became a client.
Importantly, for some central intake models, the role of intake agencies is to identify and link clients to an agency well suited to the individual client's needs. This may decrease the number of unassisted requests for services for jurisdictions operating such central intake models.
See Technical information for more information on measuring unassisted requests in the SHSC.
Across Australia, there were around 95,300 unassisted requests in 2019–20.
Some key trends in unassisted requests since 2015–16 include:
Sex (per cent)
Living arrangement (per cent)
Single with child(ren)
Couple with child(ren)
Couple without children
Other family group
Average number of times a person approached an agency
Unassisted people who become clients (per cent)
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2015–16 to 2019–20.
Analysis of how often a person requested assistance and how many later became SHS clients can only be examined and understood where the statistical linkage key (SLK) was complete and valid (around 52% of all unassisted requests). Of the valid data, in 2019–20 on average each unassisted person approached an agency 1.7 times (Table UNASSISTED.1).
In 2019–20, 48% of people with a valid SLK later went on to become clients and received services during the year, higher than 2018–19 (45%). The future service use experience for the remaining 52% were unknown; they may have received assistance from a non-SHS service, used their own support networks or continued to experience unstable housing or homelessness. Alternatively, these people may go on to become clients in future years.
Clients receiving support from SHS agencies often need a wide range of services. Some needs arise more than once in a support period and this makes it difficult to assess the extent to which the need has been met from the available data.
Reporting unmet need for services in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)
Unmet need is recorded when an SHS client has some, but not all, their identified needs for services met. Agencies can also refer clients to another service for assistance.
Just over half (59%) of all clients needed at least one type of accommodation service (Figure UNMET NEED.1 and Supplementary table CLIENTS.23):
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table CLIENTS.23.
Agencies were able to meet the general needs of most clients. For example, of the over 224,700 clients who needed advice/information, 98% were provided assistance, and of the more than 159,700 clients requesting advocacy/liaison, 96% were provided with assistance (Supplementary table CLIENTS.23).
Other types of client needs were less commonly met. For example, among those SHS clients who required professional legal services (3% or 9,000 clients), the level of unmet need was substantial, around 27% at the end of support. This may be because of the specialist skills required to provide legal services and the limited availability of these skills within the SHS agencies and other referral services offered to clients.
The level of unmet need for broad groups of specialised services can be determined (Figure UNMET NEED.2)
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2015. General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2014. ABS Cat. no. 4159.0. Canberra: ABS.
ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Service) 2019. Demand for Community Services Snapshot December 2019. Sydney: ACOSS.
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