Data source and key concepts

Specialist Homelessness Services Collection

All agencies that receive funding to provide specialist homelessness services under the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA), formerly known as the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA) or the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), are in scope for the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHS collection). Agencies whose details have been provided to the AIHW by the relevant state or territory government department are included. Not all agencies were expected to participate in the collection.

Nationally, there were 1,698 agencies that delivered specialist homelessness services in 2020‒21.

Of the agencies expected to participate in the collection in at least one month during the 2020–21 reporting period, 100% of agencies provided data for each month that they were expected to participate.


Client-level data

  • Data only includes clients aged 10 years and over, because all clients aged under 10 are excluded when deriving the mental health flag.
  • An individual client may have received more than one support period. Matching data from individual clients who received services from different agencies and/or at different times requires a valid statistical linkage key (SLK); in 2020–21, 99% of support periods had a valid SLK.
  • Clients who have more than one support period in 2020–21 may present with different characteristics in these different support periods. For example, their main reason for seeking assistance may be 'domestic and family violence' in their first support period, and 'housing crises' in the second. In these instances, some information presented will be based on their first support period in 2020–21; other information is based on a counting methodology that analyses the client's responses and where these are different responses, determines the response provided most often and the client's longest support period for each month in 2020–21.
  • Clients may have received services from more than one state/territory. Annual client–level data presented by jurisdiction should be interpreted with caution as data is representative of clients who presented to that jurisdiction at any time during the reporting period; it may not represent the clients’ characteristics exhibited when they attended for services in that particular jurisdiction.

SHS data collection

  • Due to improvements in agency response and statistical linkage key (SLK) validity rates, data from 2017–18 onwards were not weighted. As the aim of the imputation strategy was to account for low rates of agency response and SLK validity in previous years, unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards are directly comparable with weighted data for 2011–12 to 2016–17. The removal of weighting does not constitute a break in time series.
  • In 2017–18, age and age-related variables were derived using a more robust calculation method. Caution should be used when comparing results with publications from December 2018 onwards that include 2017–18 data with other publications.
  • As with all data collections, the SHS collection estimates are subject to errors. These can arise from data coding and processing errors, inaccurate data or missing data. Reported findings are based on data reported by agency workers.
  • Changes in SHS collection data over time may be influenced by changes in underlying jurisdiction policies, programs or systems. These changes might affect the service footprint, the characteristics of priority clients, or how services work together to respond to client needs.
  • Detailed information on how specific variables were derived can be found in the 'Technical information' for the 2020–21 Specialist Homelessness Services Collection annual report.

Data quality

  • The 2020–21 Specialist Homelessness Services Collection Data Quality Statement is available from the METeOR website.


Key concepts

Key concept Description
Accommodation services Accommodation services include short-term or emergency accommodation, medium-term/transitional housing, assistance to obtain long term housing, assistance to sustain tenancy or prevent tenancy failure or eviction and assistance to prevent foreclosures or for mortgage arrears.
At risk of homelessness

A person is described as at risk of homelessness if they are at risk of losing their accommodation or they are experiencing one or more of a range of factors or triggers that can contribute to homelessness.

Risk factors include:

  • financial stress (including due to loss of income, low income, gambling, change of family circumstances)
  • housing affordability stress and housing crisis (pending evictions/foreclosures, rental and/or mortgage arrears)
  • inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions, including accommodation that is unsafe, unsuitable or overcrowded
  • previous accommodation ended
  • relationship/family breakdown
  • child abuse, neglect or environments where children are at risk
  • sexual abuse
  • family/domestic violence
  • non-family violence
  • mental health issues and other health problems
  • problematic alcohol, drug or substance use
  • employment difficulties and unemployment
  • problematic gambling
  • transitions from custodial and care arrangements, including out-of-home care, independent living arrangements for children aged under 18, health and mental health facilities/programs, juvenile/youth justice and correctional facilities
  • discrimination, including racial discrimination (e.g. Aboriginal people in the urban rental market)
  • disengagement with school or other education and training
  • involvement in, or exposure to, criminal activities
  • antisocial behaviour
  • lack of family and/or community support
  • staying in a boarding house for 12 weeks or more without security of tenure.

A specialist homelessness agency client is a person who receives a specialist homelessness service. A client can be of any age. Children are also clients if they receive a service from a specialist homelessness agency.

To be a client the person must directly receive a service and not just be a beneficiary of a service.

Children who present with an adult and receive a service are considered to be a client; children of a client or other household members who present but do not directly receive a service are not considered to be clients. 

Client with a current mental health issue

SHS clients with a current mental health issue are identified as such if they have provided any of the following information: 

  • they indicated at the beginning of a support period they were receiving services or assistance for their mental health issues, or had received them in the last 12 months; 
  • their formal referral source to the specialist homelessness agency was a mental health service;
  • they reported ‘mental health issues’ as a reason for seeking assistance;
  • their dwelling type either a week before presenting to an agency, or when presenting to an agency, was a psychiatric hospital or unit;
  • they had been in a psychiatric hospital or unit in the last 12 months; 
  • at some stage during their support period, a need was identified for psychological services, psychiatric services or mental health services.

The client’s homeless status at the beginning and end of their support.

Clients are considered to be homeless if they are living in any of the following circumstances:

  • No shelter or improvised dwelling:
    • includes where dwelling type is no dwelling/street/park/in the open, motor vehicle, improvised building/dwelling, caravan, cabin, boat or tent; or tenure type is renting or living rent-free in a caravan park.
  • Short-term temporary accommodation:
    • dwelling type is boarding/rooming house, emergency accommodation, hotel/motel/bed and breakfast; or tenure type is renting or living rent-free in boarding/rooming house, renting or living rent-free in emergency accommodation or transitional housing.
  • House, townhouse or flat (couch surfing or with no tenure):
    • tenure type is no tenure; or conditions of occupancy is couch surfing.
Other support services Other support services refer to the assistance, other than accommodation services, provided to a client. They include domestic/family violence services, mental health services, family/relationship assistance, disability services, drug/alcohol counselling, legal/financial services, immigration/cultural services, other specialist services and general assistance and support.
Specialist homelessness agency A specialist homelessness agency is an organisation which receives government funding to deliver specialist homelessness services to a client. These can be either not-for-profit and for profit agencies.
Specialist homelessness service(s) Specialist homelessness service(s) is assistance provided by a specialist homelessness agency to a client aimed at responding to or preventing homelessness. The specialist homelessness services in scope for this collection include accommodation provision, assistance to sustain housing, mental health services, family/relationship assistance, disability services, drug/alcohol counselling, legal/financial services, immigration/cultural services, domestic/family violence services, other specialist services and general assistance and support. 
Support period

A support period is the period of time a client receives assistance from an agency.  A support period starts on the day the client first receives a service from an agency and ends when:

  • the relationship between the client and the agency ends,
  • the client has reached their maximum amount of support the agency can offer, or
  • a client has not received any services from the agency for a whole calendar month and there is no ongoing relationship.