Young people presenting alone

Some known drivers of youth homelessness include drug issues, mental health issues, gender and LGBTI issues, difficult family situations (including parental drug and alcohol abuse and family and domestic violence), insecure employment and a lack of income (MacKenzie et al. 2020). Young people face discrimination in the private rental market due to lack of rental references and fewer financial resources (Homelessness Australia 2016) and they are less able to access social housing (MacKenzie et al. 2020). As such, leaving the parental home prior to establishing stable employment is a significant risk factor for youth homelessness (Carlisle et al. 2018, Steen & MacKenzie 2017).

Youth homelessness can also disrupt education leading to poorer educational outcomes. This may lead to further long term economic disadvantage perpetuating the cycle of homelessness in adulthood. For example, living in overcrowded housing can adversely affect the number of school years completed as students do not have enough space to do homework, get enough sleep or establish a routine (Fildes et al. 2018). There is concern that young people who do not seek support face substantial challenges in maintaining or engaging with education and employment, which is why it is important to provide greater avenues for preventing and responding to youth homelessness (Stone 2017).

According to Census estimates, around 27,700 young people aged 12–24 were experiencing homelessness on Census night in 2016, making up 24% of the total homeless population (ABS 2016). However, youth homelessness is likely to be underestimated in the Census (ABS 2016). For example, a usual address may be reported for couch surfers because the young person is staying in a household on Census night. It can be difficult to identify people experiencing this form of homelessness because of the transient nature of couch surfing and often young couch surfers do not classify themselves as homeless (Terui & Hsieh 2016). For more information, see Couch Surfers. Children and young people are a national priority homelessness cohort in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (CFFR 2018) (seePolicy section for more information) recognising the severe impact that homelessness may have on the lives of young Australians.

Young people presenting alone are defined as any client aged 15–24 who presented to a SHS agency alone in their first support period in the financial year.

Key findings

  • In 2019–20, almost 42,400 young people aged 15–24 presented alone to SHS agencies.
  • Young people presenting alone made up 15% of all SHS clients but accounted for 73% of all SHS clients aged 15–24.
  • Half (51%) of all young people presenting alone were known to be homeless at presentation to agencies and were more likely to be living in a house, townhouse or flat as a ‘couch surfer’ with no tenure (29%) compared with the overall SHS population (17%).
  • 1 in 6 (16%) young people presenting alone were enrolled in secondary school at the beginning of support, 3% were enrolled in university and 1 in 10 (10%) were enrolled in vocational education or other training.
  • More than half of (58%) young people presenting alone in 2019–20 had previously been assisted by a SHS agency at some point since the collection began in 2011–12.
  • The proportion of young people who were known to be homeless decreased from 53% to 39% following SHS support, with the proportion of clients living in private or other housing increasing from 33% to 44%.

Client characteristics

In 2019–20 (Table YOUNG.1):

  • SHS agencies assisted around 42,400 young people aged 15–24 who presented alone; a decrease of almost 600 clients from 2018–19.
  • Young people presenting alone made up 15% of all SHS clients but accounted for 73% of all SHS clients aged 15–24.
  • The rate of young people presenting alone was 16.7 per 10,000 population, similar to 2018–19.
Table YOUNG.1: Young people (15–24 years) presenting alone—2015–16 to 2019–20

 

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

Number of clients

44,621

44,197

43,180

42,960

42,387

Proportion of all clients

16

15

15

15

15

Rate (per 10,000 population)

18.7

18.3

17.6

17.2

16.7

Notes:

1.  Rates are crude rates based on the Australian estimated resident population (ERP) at 30 June of the reference year. Minor adjustments in rates may occur between publications reflecting revision of the estimated resident population by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

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.

3.  In 2017–18, age and age-related variables were derived using a more robust calculation method. Data for previous years have been updated with the improved calculation method for age. As such, data prior to 2017–18 contained in the SHS Annual Report may not match that contained in the SHS Annual Report Historical Tables.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2015–16 to 2019–20.

Age and sex

In 2019–20, of young people presenting alone (Supplementary table YOUNG.1):

  • 3 in 5 were female (63% or almost 26,900 clients).
  • 1 in 4 were aged 15–17 (26% or more than 10,800 clients).

Indigenous clients

In 2019–20:

  • Over one-quarter of young people presenting alone identified as Indigenous (28% or almost 11,800 clients).
  • Young people presenting alone were more likely to identify as Indigenous than the overall SHS population (28%, compared with 27%).

State and territory

In 2019–20:

  • The largest number of young people presenting alone accessed services in Victoria (13,700 clients or 32%) and New South Wales (almost 13,700 clients or 32%).
  • The highest rate of young people presenting alone was in the Northern Territory (72.3 clients per 10,000 population), followed by Tasmania (27.4 per 10,000 population).

Living arrangements

In 2019–20:

  • Among young people presenting alone, the most commonly reported living arrangement at the beginning of support was lone person (42% or almost 16,500 clients), followed by other family (17% or more than 6,700 clients).
  • Female clients were more likely than males to report their living arrangement as one parent with child/ren (18% or almost 4,500 clients, compared with 6% or almost 900 males) while male clients were more likely to report their living arrangement as a lone person (52% or almost 7,500 clients, compared with 37% or almost 9,000 females).

Education status

Of those whose education status was known, around 3 in 10 young people presenting alone were enrolled in education (29% or more than 10,700 clients).

  • 1 in 6 young people presenting alone were secondary school students (16% or around 5,900 clients).
  • 1 in 10 young people presenting alone were enrolled in vocational education and training or other education or training (10% or almost 3,600 clients).

Selected vulnerabilities

Young people presenting alone may face additional vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to homelessness, in particular, family and domestic violence, mental health issues and problematic drug and/or alcohol use.

Of the almost 42,400 young people presenting alone in 2019–20, almost 2 in 3 (65%) reported experiencing one or more of these vulnerabilities (Table YOUNG.2):

  • Almost half reported a current mental health issue (47% or over 19,700 clients).
  • 1 in 3 reported family and domestic violence (36% or 15,100 clients).
  • 6% (2,500 clients) reported experiencing all 3 vulnerabilities.
  • More than 1 in 3 (36% or 15,100 clients) reported experiencing none of these vulnerabilities.
Table YOUNG.2: Young people presenting alone, by selected vulnerability characteristics, 2019–20

Family and domestic violence

Mental health issue

Problematic drug and
or alcohol use

Clients

Per cent

Yes

Yes

Yes

2,501

5.9

Yes

Yes

No

5,769

13.6

Yes

No

Yes

387

0.9

No

Yes

Yes

2,548

6.0

Yes

No

No

6,448

15.2

No

Yes

No

8,897

21.0

No

No

Yes

778

1.8

No

No

No

15,059

35.5

 

 

 

42,387

100.0

Notes

  1. Clients are assigned to one category only based on their vulnerability profile.
  2. Clients are aged 15–24.
  3. Totals may not sum due to rounding.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20.

Housing situation on first presentation

At the beginning of the first support period, half (51%) of young people presenting alone presented to services experiencing homelessness. This was higher than all SHS clients (43% presenting homeless) but lower than clients who are current or former members of the ADF (53% homeless) and clients with problematic drug or alcohol issues (58% homeless) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.12).

Service use patterns

In 2019–20, young people presenting alone who received assistance from SHS agencies received (Table YOUNG.3):

  • a median of 55 days of support, increasing from 54 days in 2018–19
  • an average of 1.9 support periods per client.
  • 1 in 3 (31%) received accommodation
  • a median of 43 nights of accommodation.
Table YOUNG.3: Young people presenting alone: service use patterns—2015–16 to 2019–20

 

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

2019–20

Length of support (median number of days)

44

47

49

54

55

Average number of support periods per client

1.8

1.9

1.9

1.8

1.9

Proportion receiving accommodation

33

31

31

31

31

Median number of nights accommodated

40

44

45

45

43

Notes

  1. The denominator for the proportion receiving accommodation is all young people presenting alone. 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.
  3. In 2017–18, age and age-related variables were derived using a more robust calculation method. Data for previous years have been updated with the improved calculation method for age. As such, data prior to 2017–18 contained in the SHS Annual Report may not match that contained in the SHS Annual Report Historical Tables.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2015–16 to 2019–20.

New or returning clients

In 2019–20 (Supplementary table YOUNG.7):

  • Most young people presenting alone in 2019–20 (58% or 24,400 clients) were returning clients, having previously been assisted by an SHS agency at some point since the collection began in 2011–12.
  • Returning clients were more likely to be 18–24 (80%, compared with 66% of new clients).

Main reasons for seeking assistance

In 2019–20, the main reasons for seeking assistance among young people presenting alone were:

  • housing crisis (17% or almost 7,200 clients)
  • family and domestic violence (17% or almost 7,100 clients)
  • inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (12% or more than 5,100 clients)
  • relationship/family breakdown (12% or almost 5,100 clients).

Young people who were known to be homeless at first presentation were more likely to identify housing crisis (22%, compared with 13% of clients at risk) or inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (17%, compared with 9% at risk) as their main reason for seeking assistance.

Family and domestic violence was the most commonly reported main reason for seeking assistance among young people presenting alone who were known to be at risk of homelessness (20%, compared with 10% of homeless clients).

Services needed and provided

Similar to the overall SHS population, the majority of young people presenting alone needed general services that were provided by SHS agencies including advice/information, advocacy/liaison on behalf of client and other basic assistance.

Apart from those services, the most common services requested by young people presenting alone were (Figure YOUNG.1):

  • long-term housing (44% or 18,800 clients), with 4% receiving this service and 23% receiving a referral
  • short-term or emergency accommodation (43% or over 18,000 clients), with 52% of those needing this service also receiving this service
  • medium-term/transitional housing (40% or more than 16,900 clients), with 26% receiving this service.

Figure YOUNG.1: Young people presenting alone, by most needed services and service provision status (top 6), 2019–20

The stacked horizontal bar graph shows that the most common needs identified for young people presenting alone were accommodation related: 43%25 requested short-term or emergency accommodation (52%25 were provided with this accommodation), 40%25 requested medium-term/transitional housing (26%25 were provided with this accommodation), and 44%25 requested long-term housing (4%25 provided with this accommodation).

Notes

  1. Excludes 'Other basic assistance'. Advice/information' and 'Advocacy/liaison on behalf of client'.
  2. 'Short-term accomodation' includes temporary and emergency accomodation and sutain tenancy/prevent eviction includes assistance to sustain tenancy or prevent tenancy failure or eviction.
  3. 'Neither' indicates a service was neither provided nor referred.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table YOUNG.3.

 

Young people presenting alone were also more likely than the overall SHS population to request services including:

  • living skills/personal development (35%, compared with 19%), with 93% receiving this service
  • educational assistance (20%, compared with 8%), with 74% receiving this service
  • employment assistance (18%, compared with 6%), with 68% receiving this service
  • training assistance (13%, compared with 4%), with 66% receiving this service.

The proportion of young people presenting alone to SHS services for assistance with a case management plan was comparatively high (62% in 2019–20) compared with other client groups, however, those achieving all case management goals was low (16% in 2019–20) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.35). This group is among one of the least likely of all SHS client groups to meet all case management goals.

Outcomes at the end of support

Outcomes presented here describe the change 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 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.

At the end of the reporting period in 2019–20 (Table YOUNG.4):

  • The proportion of young people presenting alone who were known to be homeless decreased from 53% at the beginning of support to 39% at the end of support; around 4,000 fewer clients were homeless at the end of support. 
  • The shift in the proportion of couch surfers accounted for much of the decrease in the proportion of clients who were homeless; the proportion of clients living in a house, townhouse or flat as a ‘couch surfer’ with no tenure decreased from 29% to 21% at the end of support, while the proportion sleeping rough decreased from 8% to 4%.
  • The largest change for those known to be at risk of homelessness was in the proportion of clients living in private or other housing, which increased from 33% at the start of support to 44% at the end (to more than 11,100 clients).

These trends demonstrate that 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.

Table YOUNG.4: Young people presenting alone (closed support), by housing situation at the beginning and end of support, 2019–20

Housing situation

Beginning of support
(number)

End of
support
(number)

Beginning of support
(per cent)

End of
support
(per cent)

No shelter or improvised/inadequate dwelling

2,178

1,087

8.2

4.3

Short term temporary accommodation

4,053

3,640

15.3

14.3

House, townhouse or flat - couch surfer or with no tenure

7,780

5,254

29.3

20.6

Total homeless

14,011

9,981

52.8

39.2

Public or community housing - renter or rent free

2,621

3,524

9.9

13.8

Private or other housing - renter, rent free or owner

8,833

11,122

33.3

43.7

Institutional settings

1,060

826

4.0

3.2

Total at risk

12,514

15,472

47.2

60.8

Total clients with known housing situation

26,525

25,453

100.0

100.0

Not stated/other

4,360

5,432

 

 

Total clients

30,885

30,885

 

 

Notes

  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 YOUNG.4.

Housing outcomes for homeless versus at risk clients

For clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support (almost 12,600 clients), agencies were able to assist (Figure YOUNG.2):

  • 3,300 clients (26%) into private or other housing
  • 2,700 (22%) into short term accommodation.

More than 1 in 3 (35% or almost 4,400 clients) were couch surfing at the end of support.

Figure YOUNG.2: Housing situation for clients with closed support who were experiencing homelessness at the start of support, 2019–20

This Sankey diagram shows the housing situation (including rough sleeping, couch surfing, short-term accommodation, public/community housing, private housing and institutional settings) of young clients presenting with closed support periods at first presentation and at the end of support. In 2019–20 at the beginning of support, of those experiencing homelessness, 56%25 were couch surfing. At the end of support, 35%25 of clients were couch surfing and 26%25 were in private housing. A total of 64%25 of clients were homeless.

Notes

  1. Excludes clients with unknown housing 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 with a known housing status who were at risk of homelessness at the start of support (more than 11,700 clients), by the end of support (Figure YOUNG.3):

  • Most clients (7,300 or 62%) were in private or other housing
  • Around 2,300 clients (20%) were in public or community housing.

A smaller number were experiencing homelessness at the end of support (around 1,500 clients or 13% of those who started support at risk).

Figure YOUNG.3: Housing situation for clients with closed support who began support at risk of homelessness, 2019–20

This Sankey diagram shows the housing situation (including rough sleeping, couch surfing, short-term accommodation, public/community housing, private housing and institutional settings) of young clients presenting alone with closed support periods at first presentation and at the end of support. In 2019–20 at the beginning of support, of those at risk of homelessness, 71%25 were in private housing. At the end of support, 62%25 of clients were in private housing and 20%25 were in public or community housing. A total of 13%25 of clients were homeless.

Notes

  1. Excludes clients with unknown housing 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.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2016. Census of population and housing: estimating homelessness, 2016. ABS cat. no. 2049.0. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2018. Couch surfers: a profile of Specialist Homelessness Services clients. Cat. no. HOU 298. Canberra: AIHW.

Carlisle E, Fildes J, Hall S, Hicking V, Perrens B & Plummer J 2018. Youth survey report 2018. Sydney: Mission Australia.

CFFR (Council on Federal Financial Relations) 2018. National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. Viewed 3 October 2019.

Fildes J, Perrens B & Plummer J 2018. Young people’s experiences of homelessness: findings from the youth survey 2017. Sydney: Mission Australia.

Homelessness Australia 2016. Homelessness and young people. Fact sheet, January 2016. Canberra: Homelessness Australia. Viewed 3 October 2019,

MacKenzie D, Hand T, Zufferey C, McNells S, Spinney A & Tedmanson D. 2020. Redesign of a homelessness service system for young people. AHURI Final Report 327, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, Melbourne.

Steen A & MacKenzie D 2017. The sustainability of the youth foyer model: a comparison of the UK and Australia. Social Policy & Society 16(3): 391–404. doi:10.1017/S1474746416000178.

Stone C 2017. Skills to pay the bills: education, employment and youth homelessness. Foundation paper. Sydney: Yfoundations. Viewed 3 October 2019, .

Terui S & Hsieh E 2016. ‘Not homeless yet. I’m kind of couch surfing’: finding identities for people at a homeless shelter. Social Work in Public Health 31(7): 688–699.