Specialist homelessness services

The Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) Collection describes clients who receive services from specialist homelessness agencies, and the assistance they receive, including clients with a current mental health issue.

This section presents information provided by SHS agencies on clients with a current mental health issue who received services in 2016–17. The data have been weighted for non-response.

A client has been identified as having a current mental health issue if they 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.

Data downloads:

Specialist Homelessness Services 2016–17 tables (753KB XLS)

Specialist Homelessness Services 2016–17 section (715KB)

Data coverage includes the time period 2011–12 to 2016–17. This section was last updated in July 2018.

Key points

  • Of the almost 241,000 SHS clients aged 10 years and over in 2016–17, about 1 in 3 had a current mental health issue.
  • The national rate of SHS clients with a current mental health issue has increased each year from 2011–12 to 2016–17.
  • The rate of clients with a mental health issue was 7 times as high for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than other Australians.
  • Top reasons clients with a mental health issue sought SHS support were housing crisis/inadequacy, domestic/family violence, and finance troubles.
  • Of clients with a current mental health issue, 60% received support for longer than 45 days.

Clients with a current mental health issue

About 241,00 people aged 10 years and older were assisted by specialist homelessness agencies nationally in 2016–17 ( AIHW 2018). Of these, nearly 1 in 3 (about 78,000 or 32.2%) were clients with a current mental health issue.

In 2016–17, there were 365.2 clients per 100,000 population (Figure SHS.1) nationally with a current mental health issue. Tasmania had the highest rate of clients (635.5) with a current mental health issue, followed by Victoria (540.6) and Northern Territory (525.6).

Source data: Specialised homelessness services 2016-17 (753KB XLS)

The national rate of SHS clients with a current mental health issue has been increasing since the beginning of the collection in 2011–12 (Figure SHS.2). These clients represent one of the fastest growing sub-groups within the SHS collection ( AIHW 2018). Nationally, the proportion of SHS clients aged 10 years and older with a current mental health issue increased from 23.5% in 2012–13 to 32.3% in 2016–17. Nationally, the population rate of clients with a current mental health issue increased between 2012–13 and 2016–17 at an annual average of 10.7%. The national population rate of all SHS clients increased over the same period at an annual average of 4.2% (AIHW 2018 ). Some of these increases may be influenced by changes to service delivery models by some states and territories. The average annual change in the rate of clients with a current mental health issue since 2012–13 varied between jurisdictions, ranging from -1.4% in the Australian Capital Territory to 16.1% in Tasmania.

Source data: Specialised homelessness services 2016-17 (753KB XLS)

Client characteristics

For clients with a current mental health issue, 18–24 year olds had the highest rate of SHS agency use in 2016–17, followed by 15–17 year olds (658.3 and 603.9 per 100,000 population, respectively). For clients without a current mental health issue, 15–17 year olds had the highest rate of SHS agency use in 2016–17, followed by 18–24 year olds (1,295.1 and 1,203.4 per 100,000 population, respectively). The rate of service use was higher for clients without a current mental health issue, compared to clients with, in all age groups, from 1.8 times as high in people aged 18–24, 35–44 and 45–54, and up to 4.9 times as high in 10–14 year olds (Figure SHS.3).

Source data: Specialised homelessness services 2016-17 (753KB XLS)

In 2016–17, the rate of SHS clients with a current mental health issue was higher for women and girls (429.8 per 100,000 population) than for men and boys (298.9).

In 2016–17, the rate of SHS clients with a current mental health issue was 7 times as high for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander SHS clients than other Australians (1,834.7 and 259.9 per 100,000 population respectively).

In 2016–17, almost half (47.8%) of SHS clients with a current mental health issue reported an episode of homelessness in the 12 months before presenting to an agency, compared with about a third (32.5%) of clients without.

Sources of referral

For clients with a current mental health issue, the most frequently recorded source of referral to an SHS agency was a Specialist homelessness agency/outreach worker (25.6%), followed by Other (government or non-government) agency (18.7%) and Mental health service (8.6%).

Reasons for seeking assistance

In 2016–17, 27.2% of SHS clients with a current mental health issue reported Housing crisis as the main reason for seeking assistance, followed by Domestic and family violence (17.6%), Inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (10.6%) and Financial difficulties (9.5%) (Figure SHS.4). Clients without a current mental health issue reported the same top three reasons. About 1 in 20 (4.4%) SHS clients with a current mental health issue had Mental health issues recorded as their main reason for seeking assistance.

Source data: Specialised homelessness services 2016-17 (753KB XLS)

SHS clients can nominate other reasons for seeking assistance alongside their main reason for seeking assistance. When all presenting reasons for seeking assistance are considered, Housing crisis (58.3%), Mental health issues (52.9%), and Financial difficulties (52.4%) were the most frequently reported for clients with a current mental health issue. By contrast, for clients without a current mental health issue, Housing crisis (39.8%), Domestic and family violence (36.3%), and Financial difficulties (36.0%) were the most frequently reported reasons.