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To provide a count of the number of Indigenous homeless people, Chamberlain and MacKenzie used Census data supplemented with data from the SAAP National Data Collection. The Chamberlain and MacKenzie estimate also included an adjustment for undercounting. Using this approach, there were an estimated 7,526 homeless Indigenous people at the time of the 2001 Census (a rate of 176 per 10,000) compared with 91,699 homeless non-Indigenous people (or 50 per 10,000 population) (ABS & AIHW 2005).
A similar count using data from the 2006 Census and SAAP data is not yet available. The following table therefore provides an estimate of the number and rate of Indigenous homeless people using Census data only, and with no adjustment for undercounting. This is the simple definition of homelessness and provides an estimate that is considerably lower than that determined by Chamberlain and MacKenzie using 2001 Census data.
According to the 2006 Census, there were 4,116 Indigenous people who were homeless on Census night (table 4.16). This included 2,283 Indigenous people with no conventional accommodation (i.e. in improvised dwellings or sleeping rough), 662 in hostels, refuges or night shelters, and 1,171 residing temporarily with others. The Northern Territory recorded the largest number of Indigenous homeless people (1,143), followed by Queensland (1,019).
Homeless people in the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP)
There are two major national programs that provide assistance to homeless people:
The SAAP was established to assist those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, defined by the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program Act 1994 (Section 4) as someone who has 'inadequate access to safe and secure housing' (FaCS 1999:19). In the context of homelessness, the Act refers to housing situations that may damage health, threaten safety, marginalise a person from both personal amenities and the economic and social support a home normally offers; where the affordability, safety, security or adequacy of housing is threatened; or where there is no security of tenure. A person is also considered homeless under the Act if they are living in SAAP or other emergency accommodation.
Those using SAAP services represent a subset of homeless people, no matter which definition of homelessness is used, as not all people experiencing homelessness will use SAAP services. The existence of the SAAP National Data Collection, however, means that there is a wide range of information available on SAAP clients. In addition to counting all people assisted by SAAP, there are also some data collected on those who seek accommodation but whose requests for accommodation could not be met.
There were 16,200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years or over who received SAAP support in 2005-06 (table 4.17), making up 17% of all SAAP clients. In every state and territory, Indigenous clients of SAAP services were substantially over-represented relative to the proportion of Indigenous people in those jurisdictions.
The demographic profile of Indigenous and non-Indigenous SAAP clients is shown in table 4.18. Consistent with differences in the age structures of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous clients were more likely to be younger than non-Indigenous clients. For example, 68% of Indigenous clients were aged less than 35 years compared with 60% of non-Indigenous clients.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Indigenous SAAP clients were female compared with only 57% of non-Indigenous SAAP clients. Among Indigenous clients aged 25-29 years, over 80% were female. In two jurisdictions, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, there were far more Indigenous female clients than other Australian-born female clients - 76% compared with 21% in the Northern Territory and 53% compared with 34% in Western Australia (AIHW 2007g:32). The high rate of Indigenous females in SAAP reflects the support which this program provides for those who have experienced domestic violence and those at risk of homelessness, both of which are areas of particular concern for Indigenous women (see tables 4.18 and 4.20, and Chapter 6).
Children accompanying SAAP clients
For the purposes of the National Data Collection, children who attend a SAAP service with their parent or guardian are not counted as clients in their own right, but are counted as accompanying children. In 2005-06, the first year in which the Indigenous status of accompanying children was collected, 27% of all accompanying children in SAAP were of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin (AIHW 2007g).
Reflecting the over-representation of Indigenous people among SAAP clients and the high proportion of clients who have experienced domestic violence, Indigenous children were far more likely than non-Indigenous children to have accompanied a parent or guardian to a SAAP agency (table 4.19). Indigenous children attended a SAAP agency at a rate of 537 per 10,000, compared with 69 per 10,000 for non-Indigenous children. In the 0-4 years age group, there were 906 Indigenous children in SAAP for every 10,000 Indigenous children in this age group. That is, 1 in every 11 Indigenous children aged 0-4 years attended a SAAP agency in 2005-06. The corresponding rates for non-Indigenous children were 113 per 10,000, or 1 in every 88 children.
Reasons for seeking support
In 2005-06, the most common reason cited by Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients for seeking accommodation assistance was domestic violence (in 31% and 21% of support periods respectively) (table 4.20). A further one in five Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients sought accommodation assistance as a result of relationship or family breakdown, which also includes time out from family or other situations, and interpersonal conflict (in 21% and 20% of support periods, respectively).
Indigenous clients were less likely to cite accommodation difficulties as a reason for seeking assistance than non-Indigenous clients (in 10% and 17% of support periods, respectively), where accommodation difficulties include being evicted or asked to leave, or the ending of previous accommodation or emergency accommodation. However, Indigenous clients were twice as likely to cite overcrowding as a reason for seeking assistance, in 4% of support periods compared with 2% for non-Indigenous clients.
Indigenous clients were less likely to report financial difficulties (budgeting, rent too high, or other financial difficulty) as a reason for seeking assistance (in 8% of support periods, compared with 14% for non-Indigenous clients), while proportions for the other main reasons given for seeking assistance did not differ greatly from non-Indigenous clients. A slightly higher proportion of Indigenous clients, compared with non-Indigenous clients, were likely to be seeking assistance for being itinerant or a recent arrival to the area with no means of support.
SAAP clients before and after support
SAAP aims to assist clients in re-establishing their capacity to live independently once they cease to receive assistance from the Program. To evaluate the Program's success in achieving this objective, information is collected about clients' tenure and income source both before and after their use of SAAP services. Closed support periods, that is, support periods that finished on or before 30 June 2006, are used as the basis for this analysis. The data presented in tables 4.21 and 4.22 relate only to support periods for which both before and after information on clients' tenure and income source were provided. Instances where only before or after information were provided, or neither, have been excluded so caution should be exercised in assessing the data.
Among Indigenous clients, the major type of tenure both before and after SAAP support was public housing, which increased from 23% before assistance to 25% after assistance (table 4.21). There was also a small increase in the proportion of clients in private rental accommodation, from 14% to 16%. For non-Indigenous clients, private rental was the major type of tenure both before support (28%) and after support (29%).
There were only small changes in the proportions of Indigenous clients with the various sources of income before and after support. The proportion of Indigenous clients on a pension or benefit, for example, increased from 89% before support to 91% after support, and the proportion with no income decreased from 6% to 5% (table 4.22). Among non-Indigenous clients, the proportion on a government pension or benefit increased from 85% before support to 87% after support, and the proportion with no income decreased from 7% to 5%.
Unmet need for SAAP
The Demand for Accommodation Collection attempts to measure unmet need for SAAP accommodation in two separate weeks during the year. This collection counts those who were seeking accommodation but whose request for accommodation could not be met. The identification of Indigenous clients in this data collection is less complete than in the main SAAP data collection, with Indigenous status unknown for around 31% of people making valid unmet requests for accommodation (AIHW 2007e).
In addition to those clients who were provided with assistance, in December 2005 and May 2006 there were an average 78 Indigenous people per day with valid unmet requests for assistance. There were more Indigenous females (44) with unmet requests for assistance than Indigenous males (34) (table 4.23). While these data are an indicator of unmet need for accommodation assistance, it is difficult to extrapolate these figures to annual figures because of seasonal factors and because people can have several unmet requests for assistance in the same year.