New data reveals homelessness on the rise

The number of people experiencing homelessness who access government funded services in Western Australia has increased by 39 per cent over the last five years, with WA’s outback northern region seeing the highest rate of clients in Australia, new data reveals.

Compiled by the University of WA, Centre for Social Impact (CSI), the ‘Ending Homelessness in WA 2022’ report provides an overview of homelessness in Western Australia, a decade of data held by community agencies of those sleeping rough in WA and profiles the initiatives and programs driving to end homelessness in WA.

CSI Director Professor Paul Flatau said the data was drawn from the Census of Population and Housing, the WA Zero Project and government funded homelessness and housing support services called Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS).

“We have seen a steady incline of people experiencing homelessness accessing SHSs in Western Australia from 2,252 clients per month in 2017 to 3,131 clients per month in 2022 – that’s a 39 per cent increase,” he said.

“The data reflects an overrepresentation of people experiencing homelessness in regional WA relative to Perth. While only 6.3 per cent of Western Australians live in remote or very remote WA, 36 per cent of the clients who accessed SHS services, resided in remote or very remote areas, with the outback north having the highest rate in Australia.”

Professor Flatau said the data also showed a significant over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Western Australian homeless population.

“While making up only 3.1 per cent of the general population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders form 29.1 per cent of the homeless population in the Census, Aboriginal people make up an even higher proportion of those receiving support form homeless services,” he said.

“The population of people experiencing homelessness in Western Australia is characterised by an over-representation of Aboriginal people who have experienced family or domestic violence, people with mental health issues, young people, and people with substance use issues.”

Within the report are the results of ten years of effort through the WA Zero Project and precursor the 50 Lives Campaign, which have provided information on the needs and vulnerabilities of people experiencing rough sleeping homelessness.

Professor Flatau will release the full report along with a launch of an online WA Homelessness Dashboard, displaying the latest statistics on the state of homelessness in WA and trends in the funding of homelessness services.

“Ending homelessness is possible.”

WA Alliance to End Homelessness (WAAEH) Executive Director David Pearson said the report provided a stocktake of where our efforts to end homelessness are at.

“Ending homelessness is possible, we know this because more and more communities around the world are demonstrating it,” he said.

“In Western Australia, we have a strategy for delivering an end to homelessness, and now we have a nation first dashboard for tracking our progress towards implementing it.”

“What the dashboard and report we are releasing today show is that we need to speed up the implementation of the homelessness strategy and along with investment into social housing, ensure sustainable funding of homelessness services to meet need.”

The launch on Tuesday, August 2, at 9:00am will be part of a robust program during Homelessness Week, 2022, which is being organised by the peak body for housing and homelessness, Shelter WA, centred around the theme of Housing, Health and Homelessness.

“We can end homelessness.”

Shelter WA CEO Michelle Mackenzie said the data exposed a real need for all stakeholders, and relevant government departments to build on the initiatives in the WA Homelessness Strategy and focus on a joined-up approach to address housing and health issues and their relationship to homelessness.

“We can end homelessness. Without suitable housing and appropriate wrap around supports, many people are trapped into a cycle of long-term homelessness,” she said.

“Homelessness Week will explore new ideas through workshops from local experts and keynote speeches from international leaders sharing their experience and knowledge.

“The week will forge a new conversation on the intersection between health, housing and homelessness by connecting a cross-section of government and community on a postpandemic systemwide response.”

Advance to Zero Results

A decade of community data collection of people experiencing homelessness

Key findings
• 62% male, average age 40 years
• Women on the whole were younger than their male counterparts and experienced more significant
mental health and general health issues as well as violence on the streets
• 1 in 6 aged under 24
• 52% were rough sleeping (eg streets, parks, cars), 24% in temporary accommodation (eg couch surfing)

Time spent homeless
• For individuals, the mean time spent homeless was 64.1 months – over 5 years; for families, mean time spent homeless was 68.2 months – over 5.5 years. Looking at 2020-2022 data only, the mean time spent homeless has increased to 76.3 months for individuals.

Violence
• Many people who are homeless have experienced dangerous events while homeless: 56% have been a victim of attack; 50% have threatened to harm themselves or others; 35% have engaged in risky
behaviour such as exchange sex for money, run drugs, have unprotected sex with strangers or share a needle; and 33% had a person forcing them to do things they don’t want to do.
• 63.6% reported that they had interacted with police in the previous six months.
• 55.6% of respondents had been imprisoned at some point in their life.

Health Problems
• 58.4% report dental problems, 30% dehydration, 19.9% foot/skin infections.
• 34.1% report asthma, 27% heat stroke, 18.8% hepatitis C, 19.7% heart disease, 13.5% liver disease, 12.8% diabetes.
• 69,5% depression, 63.2% anxiety, 39.3% PTSD, 24.3% psychosis.
• 72.0% problematic drug or alcohol use, 39.1% consuming alcohol and/or drugs daily.
• 35% serious brain injury or head trauma.
• 51.6% had been hospitalised in the previous six months, 66.1% reported they had used Accident and Emergency, 55.6% had been taken to hospital by ambulance.
• The mean cost of use of selected healthcare services in the six months prior to survey among Western Australian respondents in the Advance to Zero database was $14,449. Rough sleepers reported higher utilisation of healthcare services than those who were not sleeping rough, thus their costs are slightly higher at $15,891 overall.

Media Contact

Sarah Quinton | 0439 439 233. sarah.quinton@shelterwa.org.au