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 2018–19. Due to improvements in agency response and statistical linkage key (SLK) validity rates, data for 2017–18 onwards were not weighted. Unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards are directly comparable with weighted data for 2011–12 to 2016–17.

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 2018–19 tables (1.3MB XLS)

Specialist Homelessness Services 2018–19 section (797KB)

This section was last updated in July 2020.

Key points

  • 86,499 (about 1 in 3) of the 241,392 SHS clients aged 10 years and over in 2018–19 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 2018–19.
  • The rate of clients with a mental health issue was almost 7 times as high for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People than non-Indigenous Australians.
  • The top reasons clients with a mental health issue sought SHS support were housing crises/inadequacy, domestic/family violence, and financial difficulties.
  • 62.1% of clients with a current mental health issue received support for longer than 45 days.

Clients with a current mental health issue

Around 241,000 people aged 10 years and older were assisted by specialist homelessness agencies nationally in 2018–19 (AIHW 2019). Of these, 1 in 3 (almost 86,500 or 35.8%) were clients with a current mental health issue.

In 2018–19, there were 393.4 SHS clients per 100,000 population nationally with a current mental health issue (Figure SHS.1). Tasmania had the highest rate of clients (672.4) with a current mental health issue, followed by Victoria (603.2) and the Northern Territory (499.4).

 
Visualisation not available for printing

Description of figure SHS.1 - Source data: Specialist homelessness services tables (1.3MB 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. This could indicate an increase in the number of SHS clients that have a current mental health issue, or an increase in the reporting of mental illness among SHS clients due to potential factors such as increased identification, community awareness and reduced stigma. Some of the increase may also be due to changes in service delivery models by some states and territories. Nationally, the population rate of clients with a current mental health issue increased between 2014–15 and 2018–19 at an annual average rate of 6.5%. The national population rate of all SHS clients increased over the same period at an annual average of 3.2% (AIHW 2019). The average annual change in the rate of clients with a current mental health issue has varied between jurisdictions since 2014–15, ranging from –6.2% in the Australian Capital Territory to 11.0% in New South Wales.

 
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Description of figure SHS.2 - Source data: Specialist homelessness services tables (1.3MB XLS)

Client characteristics

In 2018–19, the rate of SHS clients with a current mental health issue was highest for 15–17 year olds, followed by 18–24 year olds (755.0 and 689.8 per 100,000 population, respectively). The rate of SHS clients without a current mental health issue was also highest for 15–17 year olds in 2018–19, followed by 18–24 year olds (1,290.5 and 1,043.2 per 100,000 population, respectively). The population rate of service use was higher for clients without a current mental health issue, compared to clients with, in all age groups, from 1.5 times as high in people aged 18–24 and 45–54, to 4.1 times as high for those aged 10–14 (Figure SHS.3).

 
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Description of figure SHS.3 - Source data: Specialist homelessness services tables (1.3MB XLS)

In 2018–19, the rate of SHS clients with a current mental health issue was higher for females (412.3 per 100,000 population) than for males (273.6). This difference may reflect the higher proportion of female SHS clients (62.0%) than male clients (38.0%) overall rather than indicating that female SHS clients are more likely to have a mental health issue than male SHS clients (35.0% and 37.2% of females and males respectively).

The rate of SHS clients with a current mental health issue was almost 7 times higher for Indigenous Australian clients than non-Indigenous Australian clients in 2018–19 (1,936.3 and 278.0 per 100,000 population respectively). The rate of SHS clients without a current mental health issue was almost 11 times higher for Indigenous Australian clients than non-Indigenous Australian clients (4,544.9 and 413.8 per 100,000 population respectively).

In 2018–19, almost half (47. 1%) 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 (32.8%) of clients without a current mental health issue. It should be noted that many SHS clients are at risk of homelessness rather than currently experiencing homelessness. More than half (52%) of all SHS clients with a current mental health issue were at risk of homelessness, when they sought SHS support in 2018–19 (AIHW 2019).

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 (27.8%), followed by Other (government or non-government) agency (19.3%) and Mental health service (7.6%).

Reasons for seeking assistance

In 2018–19, 21.8% of SHS clients with a current mental health issue reported Housing crises as the main reason for seeking assistance, followed by Domestic and family violence (19.5%), Inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (11.9%) and Financial difficulties (9.4%) (Figure SHS.4). Clients without a current mental health issue reported the same top 4 reasons, with Domestic and family violence as the main reason (27.9%), followed by Housing crises (19.1%), Financial difficulties (13.9%) and Inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (10.1%). About 1 in 23 (4.3%) SHS clients with a current mental health issue had mental health issues recorded as their main reason for seeking assistance.

 
Visualisation not available for printing

Description of figure SHS.4 - Source data: Specialist homelessness services tables (1.3MB 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; Mental health issues (54.3%), Financial difficulties (54.2) and Housing crises (48.9%) were the most frequently reported reasons for clients with a current mental health issue. For clients without a current mental health issue; Financial difficulties (39.0%), Domestic and family violence (35.1%), and Housing crises (33.5%) were the most frequently reported reasons.