Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) Specialist homelessness services annual report 2019-20, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 01 July 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Specialist homelessness services annual report 2019-20. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/shs-annual-report-2019-20
Specialist homelessness services annual report 2019-20. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 11 December 2020, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/shs-annual-report-2019-20
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Specialist homelessness services annual report 2019-20 [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020 [cited 2022 Jul. 1]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/shs-annual-report-2019-20
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2020, Specialist homelessness services annual report 2019-20, viewed 1 July 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/shs-annual-report-2019-20
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In Australia, 1 in 6 women (17% or 1.6 million) and 1 in 16 men (6% or 548,000) have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous cohabiting partner since the age of 15 (ABS 2017). Approximately 2.5 million Australian adults (13%) experienced abuse during their childhood; the majority knew the perpetrator and experienced multiple incidents of abuse (ABS 2017). Family and domestic violence affects people of all ages and from all backgrounds, but it predominantly affects women and children (AIHW 2019).
Family and domestic violence is the main reason women and children leave their homes in Australia (FaHCSIA 2008), with those who have experienced family and domestic violence making up 41% of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients in 2019–20 (see Clients, services and outcomes). Family and domestic violence has been found to disrupt housing security and is the leading cause of homelessness for women. In February 2019, the Australian Government announced $78 million for the Safe Places package to provide safe places for people impacted by family and domestic violence. Safe places will provide new or expanded emergency and crisis accommodation for women and children experiencing family and domestic violence. This program aims to build up to 450 safe places and assist up to 6,500 women and children escaping family and domestic violence each year (DSS 2020).
SHS agencies provide the principal crisis response for women and children who have to leave their home due to violence, yet data suggests that for many there is little services can do to provide a pathway into stable, secure, long-term housing (Flanagan et al. 2019). Women and children affected by family and domestic violence are a national priority cohort in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, which came into effect on 1 July 2018 (CFFR 2019) (see Policy section for more information). Effective services are required that recognise the impact of trauma and violence and the need for support in a safe and respectful environment (Flinders 2008). In order to achieve long term housing stability for those leaving a family and domestic violence situation, SHS responses often need to encompass a broad range of interventions and integrate various services and supports (Flanagan et al. 2019).
In the SHSC, a client is reported as experiencing family and domestic violence if in any support period during the reporting period the client sought assistance as a result of physical or emotional abuse inflicted on the client by a family member or if as part of any support period a person required family or domestic violence assistance.
The SHSC reports on clients experiencing family and domestic violence of any age, including both victims and a smaller number perpetrators who may be assisted by SHS agencies. Changes made to the SHSC allows for disaggregation of victim and/or perpetrators services. However, for 2019–20, this disaggregation will not occur due to data quality concerns that are common in the first reporting period after implementation. For more information, see Technical information.
From 2017–18 to 2018–19, there was a three per cent decrease in the total number of Victorian homelessness clients and a 10 per cent decrease in family violence clients following years of steady increases in these numbers. The decrease was primarily due to a practice correction in how some family violence agencies were recording clients. In addition, during 2018–19, a phased process to shift family violence intake to non-SHS services began, which may result in an overall decrease in the number of SHS family violence clients over the coming years. Caution should be used when comparing Victorian client numbers over recent years. For more information, see 2018–19 SHS Data Quality Statement.
In 2019–20 (Table FDV.1):
Number of clients
Proportion of all clients
Rate (per 10,000 population)
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2015–16 to 2019–20.
In 2019–20, clients who experienced family and domestic violence (Supplementary table FDV.1):
In 2019–20, of all Indigenous clients (around 71,600 clients) (Supplementary table INDIGENOUS.1, FDV.8):
At the beginning of the first support period more than one-third (37%) of all clients who had experienced family and domestic violence presented to services experiencing homelessness, while 63% were at risk of homelessness (Supplementary table CLIENTS.12).
Children experiencing family and domestic violence may seek SHS support with their family, or independently if fleeing the home. For children in particular, SHS support is critical to reduce the likelihood of a long term experience/risk of homelessness (Kaleveld et al 2018).
In 2019–20, clients who experienced family or domestic violence most commonly presented to a specialist homelessness agency for support alone or not as part of a family (53% or 63,600 clients), or as a single parent with child/ren (43% or almost 51,600 clients) (Supplementary table FDV.9).
In 2019–20, of the 105,100 clients who experienced family and domestic violence and stated their living arrangement at the beginning of SHS support (Supplementary table FDV.10):
In 2019–20 (Supplementary table FDV.7):
People who experience family and domestic violence may experience other vulnerabilities to experiencing homelessness, such as a current mental health issue and/or problematic drug and/or alcohol use. In 2019–20, of the 91,700 clients aged 10 and over who experienced family and domestic violence (Table FDV.2):
Family and domestic violence
Mental health issue
Problematic drug and
or alcohol use
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20.
In 2019–20, clients who had experienced family and domestic violence received (Table FDV.3):
Length of support (median number of days)
Average number of support periods per client
Proportion receiving accommodation
Median number of nights accommodated
In 2019–20, of those SHS clients who experienced family and domestic violence:
In 2019–20, 88,100 (74%) SHS clients who experienced family and domestic violence needed specific assistance for this reason, including therapeutic discussion or group sessions, counselling and specialised support services. Of those needing assistance for family and domestic violence, 89% were provided this assistance (Figure FDV.1).
The next most common services requested by this client group were:
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2019–20, Supplementary table FDV.3.
The proportion of SHS clients who have experienced family and domestic violence with a case management plan has remained comparatively high over time (69% in 2019–20); however those achieving all case management goals has remained low (18% in 2019–20) (Supplementary table CLIENTS.35).
Outcomes presented here describe the change in clients’ housing situation between the start and end of support. Data is limited to clients who ceased receiving support during the financial year—meaning that their support periods had closed and they did not have ongoing support at the end of the year.
Many clients had long periods of support or even multiple support periods during 2019–20. They may have had a number of changes in their housing situation over the course of their support. These changes within the year are not reflected in the data presented here, rather the client situation at the start of their first support period in 2019–20 is compared with the end of their last support period in 2019–20. A proportion of these clients may have sought assistance prior to 2019–20, and may again in the future.
At the end of the reporting period in 2019–20 (Table FDV.4):
These findings demonstrate that by the end of support, there was a reduction in homeless housing circumstances and an increase in other, potentially more positive, housing solutions. That is, more clients ended support in public or community housing (renter or rent-free) or private or other housing (renter or rent-free) compared with the start of support.
Beginning of support
Beginning of support
No shelter or improvised/inadequate dwelling
Short term temporary accommodation
House, townhouse or flat - couch surfer or with no tenure
Public or community housing - renter or rent free
Private or other housing - renter, rent free or owner
Total at risk
Total clients with known housing situation
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection. Supplementary table FDV.4.
For clients with a known housing status who were at risk of homelessness at the start of support (more than 38,600 clients), by the end of support (Figure FDV.2):
A smaller number were experiencing homelessness at the end of support (around 4,300 clients or 11% of those who started support at risk).
Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection, 2019–20
For clients who were known to be homeless at the start of support (just over 23,900 clients), agencies were able to assist (Figure FDV.3):
A further 4,600 clients (19%) were couch surfing at the end of support.
Clients accessing SHS agencies who have experienced family and domestic violence have some notable differences from other client groups. Compared with other client groups, more clients who experienced family and domestic violence were in private housing at the start and end of SHS support. Perhaps driven by their greater likelihood of presenting while housed, their service use patterns were considerably less than other client groups and they were less likely to need accommodation overall. Short-term accommodation was their greatest housing need which is in contrast to other groups which often needed long-term housing the most. This client group was more likely to be new, rather than returning clients, and more likely to experience only one selected vulnerability (family and domestic violence).
It is important to note that this analysis is based on the almost 119,200 clients of SHS agencies in 2019–20. While there are various support services available, many people do not seek advice or support after incidents of family or domestic violence. Other research suggests that for those who experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a current cohabiting partner, 1 in 2 women never sought advice or support (AIHW 2019).
People fleeing violence often require safe, affordable, independent housing in which to live in the long term and yet, some are unable to secure it (Flanagan 2019). In the absence of an appropriate housing solution, some people may consider returning to a violent relationship (Flanagan 2019). While the availability of long-term housing is a key challenge for SHS clients overall, it is particularly so for this large client group.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Personal Safety, Australia, 2016. ABS cat. no. 4906.0 Canberra: ABS.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia: continuing the national story 2019. Cat. no: FDV 2 Canberra: AIHW.
CFFR (Council on Federal Financial Relations) National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. 2018. Viewed 18 September 2019.
DSS (Department of Social Services) 2020. Safe Places Emergency Accommodation Program (Safe Places). Viewed 6 October 2020.
Flanagan K, Blunden H, Valentine K & Henriette J 2019. Housing outcomes after domestic and family violence, AHURI Final Report 311, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, Melbourne.
Flinders (Flinders University) Prepared for the Office for Women. Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Tually S, Faulkner D, Cutler C and Slatter M 2008. Women, Domestic and Family Violence and Homelessness. A Synthesis Report.
Kaleveld L, Seivwright A, Box E, Callis Z & Flatau P 2018. Homelessness in Western Australia: A review of the research and statistical evidence. Perth: Government of Western Australia, Department of Communities. Viewed 27/06/2019.
Robinson C 2003. Understanding iterative homelessness: the case of people with mental disorders. AHURI Final Report No. 45, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Melbourne.
Spinney A, 2012. Home and safe? Policy and practice innovations to prevent women and children who have experienced family and domestic violence from becoming homeless. AHURI Final report no. 196, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Melbourne
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