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4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2008  
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Contents >> Housing Circumstances >> HOMELESSNESS

HOMELESSNESS

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to be homeless than other Australians as they generally do not have the same access to affordable and secure housing. The Indigenous population is more mobile than the remainder of the population. Indigenous people often need to leave their home to access services or to observe cultural obligations. These factors combined with the absence of adequate temporary accommodation, can contribute to homelessness in this population (Keys Young 1998). Measuring the extent of homelessness, however, can be difficult and depends on which definition is used. This section examines how homelessness is defined and measured and then provides a range of data on Indigenous homeless people in the major program response to homelessness, the SAAP.


Defining and measuring homelessness

Homeless people may be simply defined as those with no housing or residing in temporary or emergency accommodation. The concept of homelessness is, however, subjective and depends on prevailing community standards. The Chamberlain and MacKenzie (2003) definition, adopted by the ABS, defines people as homeless if their accommodation falls below the minimum community standard of a small rental flat with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and some security of tenure.

The definition of homelessness can also be related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, values and beliefs (Keys Young 1998; Memmott et al 2004). Keys Young developed a number of definitions of Indigenous homelessness which emphasised the multi-layered and multi-dimensional nature of Indigenous homelessness and incorporated the concept of spiritual homelessness. Underlying these definitions was the understanding that 'home' can have different meanings for Indigenous Australians (AIHW 2003a). These differing concepts of homelessness are not, however, captured in current data sources.

Estimating the number of homeless Indigenous people

Chamberlain and MacKenzie defined the following three levels of homelessness:

  • Primary homelessness - includes all people with no conventional accommodation such as people living on the streets, in the parks, in derelict buildings and other improvised dwellings.
  • Secondary homelessness - includes people who move frequently from one form of temporary shelter to another. This includes people residing temporarily with other households because they have no accommodation of their own, as well as people accommodated in SAAP establishments.
  • Tertiary homelessness - includes people who live in boarding houses on a medium-to-long-term basis, operationally defined as 13 weeks or longer. These people are regarded as homeless because their accommodation situation is below community standard.

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).

4.16 NUMBER OF HOMELESS INDIGENOUS PERSONS, by state/territory - 2006

NSW
Vic.
Qld
WA
SA
Tas.
ACT
NT
Australia
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.
no.

No conventional accommodation
250
55
469
402
152
24
4
927
2 283
Hostel, refuge, night shelter
206
38
198
76
39
9
14
82
662
Friends/relatives
315
70
352
171
67
43
19
134
1 171
Total number
771
163
1 019
649
258
76
37
1 143
4 116

Source: ABS 2006 Census of Population and Housing



Homeless people in the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP)

There are two major national programs that provide assistance to homeless people:

  • the SAAP, which provides temporary accommodation and support services, such as domestic violence counselling, employment assistance and living skills development to homeless people, and aims to help them achieve self-reliance and independence. It is jointly funded and managed by the Australian and state/territory governments with services delivered largely by non-government agencies with some local government participation.
  • the Crisis Accommodation Program (CAP) which is funded under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement and provides emergency accommodation for homeless people. Funds are used for the purchase, lease and maintenance of dwellings.

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.

4.17 INDIGENOUS SAAP CLIENTS(a) - 2005-06

Indigenous clients(b)
Indigenous persons
Number
% of all SAAP clients
Number
% of the total Australian population

New South Wales
4 100
17.6
89 400
1.6
Victoria
1 800
5.4
19 400
0.5
Queensland
3 400
21.7
84 400
2.7
Western Australia
3 100
40.1
45 100
2.8
South Australia
1 800
18.8
17 600
1.4
Tasmania
400
9.8
11 500
3.0
Australian Capital Territory
200
9.9
2 700
1.0
Northern Territory
1 800
62.2
39 600
25.5
Australia
16 200
16.8
309 800
1.9

(a) Clients and Indigenous population aged 15 years and over. Numbers are rounded to the nearest hundred.
(b) Number excluded due to errors and omissions (weighted): 5,131 clients. Figures have been weighted to adjust for agency non-participation and client non-consent. The number of clients within a state or territory relates to clients who have received assistance from a SAAP agency in that state or territory. Since a client may have support periods in more than one state or territory, state and territory figures do not sum to the national figure.
Source: AIHW SAAP Client Collection


Client profile

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).

4.18 SAAP CLIENTS, by Indigenous status, age and sex - 2005-06

Indigenous SAAP clients
Non-Indigenous SAAP clients
Age group (years)
Male
Female
Total
Male
Female
Total

15-19 %
21.4
18.9
19.6
17.4
20.1
18.9
20-24 %
16.0
19.2
18.3
13.5
15.9
14.9
25-29 %
10.3
16.0
14.4
12.2
13.4
12.9
30-34 %
13.3
16.8
15.8
13.0
14.2
13.7
35-39 %
13.6
12.2
12.6
12.3
13.0
12.7
40-44 %
9.9
7.9
8.4
10.3
9.1
9.6
45-49 %
6.9
4.2
4.9
7.7
6.0
6.7
50-54 %
4.5
2.3
2.9
5.1
3.2
4.0
55-59 %
2.0
1.3
1.5
3.5
2.1
2.7
60-64 %
1.3
0.7
0.9
2.2
1.2
1.6
65 and over %
0.9
0.5
0.6
2.8
1.9
2.3
Total %
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Total %
27.2
72.8
100.0
42.7
57.3
100.0
no.
4 400
11 800
16 200
34 200
45 900
80 100

Source: AIHW SAAP Client Collection


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.

4.19 CHILDREN ACCOMPANYING SAAP CLIENTS, by Indigenous status and age - 2005-06

Indigenous
Non-Indigenous
Total
Age group (years)
no.
%
rate(a)
no.
%
rate(a)
no.
%
rate(a)

0-4
5 500
47.3
906
13 900
43.1
113
19 400
44.2
150
5-9
3 500
29.8
572
9 300
28.9
73
12 700
29.1
95
10-14
2 200
18.6
349
6 900
21.4
51
9 000
20.6
65
15-17
500
4.3
150
2 100
6.6
27
2 600
6.0
32
Total
11 600
100.0
537
32 200
100.0
69
43 800
100.0
90

(a) Rate per 10,000 population. The rate is estimated by comparing the number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous SAAP accompanying children with the estimated resident population in each of these groups and age groups.
Source: AIHW SAAP Client Collection


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.

4.20 SAAP SUPPORT PERIODS, main reason for seeking SAAP assistance by Indigenous status of clients - 2005-06

Indigenous
Non-Indigenous
Total
Main reason for seeking assistance
%
%
%
no.

Accommodation difficulties(a)
10.4
16.8
15.7
24 400
Relationship/family breakdown(b)
21.3
20.4
20.6
31 900
Sexual/physical/emotional abuse
2.9
2.3
2.4
3 700
Domestic violence
31.2
21.0
22.6
35 100
Financial difficulty(c)
7.9
14.2
13.1
20 300
Overcrowding
4.0
1.9
2.2
3 400
Gambling
0.1
0.4
0.3
500
Drug/alcohol/substance abuse
5.5
5.7
5.7
8 800
Recently left institution
1.3
1.4
1.4
2 100
Psychiatric illness
0.3
1.1
1.0
1 600
Recent arrival in area with no means of support
4.6
4.1
4.2
6 500
Itinerant
3.2
2.5
2.6
4 100
Mental health issues
0.8
1.9
1.7
2 700
Other health issues
1.3
1.1
1.1
1 700
Gay/lesbian/transgender issues
-
0.1
0.1
100
Other
5.0
5.1
5.1
7 900
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
-
Total (%)
16.4
83.6
100.0
-
Total (no.)
25 400
129 600
-
155 000

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Eviction/asked to leave; Previous accommodation ended; Emergency accommodation ended.
(b) Time out from family/ other situation; Interpersonal conflict.
(c) Budgeting; Rent too high; Other financial difficulty.
Source: AIHW SAAP Client Collection



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%).

4.21 SAAP SUPPORT PERIODS, type of tenure before and after SAAP support by Indigenous status of clients - 2005-06

Indigenous
Non-Indigenous
Type of accommodation
Before support
After support
Before support
After support

SAAP/CAP crisis short term accommodation %
7.7
8.2
8.2
8.8
SAAP/CAP medium long term accommodation %
2.1
3.7
2.7
5.2
Other SAAP/CAP funded accommodation %
2.2
2.6
2.1
2.7
Institutional setting %
2.3
2.1
3.3
2.7
Improvised dwelling/sleeping rough %
7.0
4.1
8.7
4.9
Other (no tenure) %
1.3
0.8
1.6
1.1
Purchasing/purchased own home %
0.9
0.7
5.3
3.9
Private rental %
14.3
15.5
28.0
29.0
Public housing rental %
23.3
25.4
10.7
14.1
Community housing rental %
14.8
15.3
2.4
3.8
Rent-free accommodation %
7.7
6.8
8.9
6.6
Boarding %
16.4
14.8
18.0
17.2
Total %
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Total %
15.9
15.9
84.1
84.1
no.
15 800
15 800
83 500
83 500

Source: AIHW SAAP Client Collection


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%.

4.22 SAAP SUPPORT PERIODS, primary income source immediately before and after SAAP support by Indigenous status - 2005-06

Indigenous
Non-Indigenous
Source of income
Before support
After support
Before support
After support

No income %
6.4
4.6
7.2
4.8
No income, awaiting pension/benefit %
0.7
0.8
1.0
0.8
Government pension/benefit %
89.3
90.5
84.6
86.5
Other %
3.7
4.1
7.1
7.8
Total %
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Total %
16.4
16.4
83.6
83.6
no.
20 400
20 400
107 500
107 500

Source: AIHW SAAP Client Collection



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.

4.23 VALID UNMET REQUESTS FOR SAAP ACCOMMODATION(a) - 7-13 December 2005 and 17-23 May 2006

NSW
Vic.
Qld
WA
SA
Tas.
ACT
NT
Australia

Males
4.6
1.7
11.9
9.9
3.1
0.3
0.6
2.3
34.4
Females
6.2
2.4
11.1
15.0
3.6
0.2
0.6
4.5
43.8
Persons
10.8
4.1
23.1
24.9
6.7
0.5
1.3
6.8
78.1

(a) Estimated average number per day of potential Indigenous clients with accompanying children.
Source: AIHW SAAP Demand for Accommodation Collection






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