Demand for Homelessness Services at All Time High
15 December 2016 at 10:54 am
Demand for specialist homelessness services are at an all time high with a greater proportion of people receiving assistance due to domestic and family violence, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
During 2015/16, an estimated 279,000 Australians were assisted by specialist homelessness services, equivalent to one in 85 Australians (up from nearly 256,000 in 2014/15).
Of those, 106,000 (38 per cent) sought support due to domestic and family violence.
The fifth annual report of the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, provides information on the clients of homelessness agencies who were assisted in 2015/16, the services they requested, the support they received, and outcomes achieved.
One in six clients were female and one in four were Indigenous.They received more than 22 million days of support and about seven million nights of accommodation.
Nationally, on any given day 1,500 agencies across the country are supporting around 57,000 clients, including 10,000 young people who present alone and more than 16,000 children in families being supported. The report said, conversely, 275 times each day people were unable to be assisted by specialist homelessness agencies.
“This is a 33 per cent increase since 2011/12, when the collection began, and a 14 per cent increase since 2014/15,” AIHW spokesperson Anna Ritson said.
“Growth in the number of clients seeking support due to domestic and family violence outpaced growth in overall client numbers which grew by 9 per cent between 2014/15 and 2015/16.
“It is important to note that increases in client numbers generally reflect the increased availability and accessibility of services, not necessarily a change in the underlying level of homelessness or domestic and family violence in Australia.”
The report shows that close to half of clients experiencing domestic and family violence in 2015/16 were single parents, and more than three-quarters were female.
Overall, Indigenous clients continued to be over represented among clients of homelessness services, with one in four clients (or about 61,700) identifying as Indigenous – higher than the rate among the general population of one in 33.
Housing affordability continues to be a significant factor for those accessing homelessness services – around 60 per cent of clients identified housing affordability and financial difficulties as a reason for seeking assistance, and this has remained fairly steady for the past three years.
“And for over 20 per cent of clients, mental health, medical issues or substance use were among the reasons for seeking specialist homelessness support,” Ritson said.
The report also shows that an increasing proportion of clients were aged over 45.
“Clients in this age group now represent around one in five of all clients – an increase of 6,500 clients compared with the previous year,” Ritson said.
Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said the statistics were unsurprising and called for urgent action on the issue.
“Our staff and many others working in homelessness services are feeling the stretch, with more and more people reaching out for support. This report just reinforces what we are already seeing on the frontline,” Yeomans said.
“Without more affordable housing, a commitment to targets and a long-term plan and funding to achieve them, the number of people who are homeless will climb, year after year. We need commitment to targets and a long-term plan and funding to achieve them to ensure that we are reducing homelessness.”
Yeomans said stronger government leadership was needed to help reduce the numbers of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
“This issue needs strong leadership from the federal government. The housing market macro policy settings and funding levers rest largely with them. We are pleased the Coalition government last week acknowledged the urgent need for action to tackle the supply of affordable housing and the growing number of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” she said.
“We welcome their recent NPAH announcement that ensures many essential homelessness services won’t have to shut their doors on 1 July 2017. However, we are disappointed the funding does not extend beyond one year. Once again, this leaves the sector with uncertainty and the inability to plan for the long term.
“As well, we can’t fix homelessness without homes. Affordable housing is a central piece of our national economic infrastructure. Increased supply of more housing for people on low and moderate incomes is a necessity, both for the lives of those individuals, families and children at risk of homelessness, and for the economic growth of Australia.
“There is an ever growing chasm of inequality as more people are pushed into substandard housing paying extreme percentages of their income towards their rent, struggling to make ends meet.”