Report shows funding for WA homeless services inadequate

A new report using data from 73 homelessness services operating across WA provides a picture of inadequate levels of funding, leading to high levels of unmet demand for housing and services for people in need.

The Funding of Western Australian Homelessness Services 2022 report commissioned by Shelter WA and undertaken by the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia (CSI UWA), is a comprehensive overview of the funding of homelessness services in Western Australia (WA).

This report is based on findings from 73 homelessness services who provided assistance to 75,402 clients across WA in 2020-21. It provides an overview of the current state of homelessness and a comprehensive analysis of the funding of homelessness services which assist those experiencing homelessness and those at risk of homelessness in WA.

Unmet Need

The report reveals high levels of unmet need. Overall, only 27 percent of services indicated that they were able to meet 90 percent or more of client demand; over half of all services (55 per cent) reported that they were unable to meet 75 per cent of demand or greater.

Despite high levels of unmet demand for services and accommodation, the vast majority of services (81.7 per cent) did not report any change in funding between 2019-20 and 2020-21.

The report found current levels of funding to be inadequate and recommend ed an increase in funding to homelessness services.

The report also found there are relatively low rates of transition from rough sleeping to permanent housing, due to the lack of social and affordable homes, with people experiencing long-term rough sleeping homelessness also exhibiting high complex health needs.

“At present there is a significant shortage of permanent housing options. In 2020-21, 57 per cent of Specialist Homelessness Service clients had unmet long-term housing needs,” Professor Flatau said.

In addition to the funding gap, the report also found significant issues in relation to the nature of contracts and commissioning of services.

“We found the effectiveness of funding and service delivery is impacted by the rollover of contracts, the short-term nature of contracts, the lack of flexibility and discretion in the ways funding can be used, and shortfalls in indexation. This in turn impacts service delivery by poor staff retention due to insecure funding, an uncertain flow of volunteers (affected by COVID-related issues), and a severe shortage of social housing stock,” Professor Flatau said.

View the slide presentation.

Aboriginal Peoples

One of the most significant findings of the report was in relation to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people experiencing homelessness in Western Australia. The authors of the report commended important steps taken by the Western Australian Government to fund Aboriginal Controlled Community Organisations in the delivery of homelessness support particularly with respect to new Housing First programs.

The report also found current investment in homelessness services critical for young people particularly in the areas of prevention and early intervention, to be severely lacking, and the system to be “adult focused”.

Andrew Hall, Executive Officer at the Perth Inner City Youth Service (PICYS) contributed to the report and described a difficult system for young people to navigate.

“There needs to be a greater focus including dedicated resourcing to effectively address young people experiencing homelessness, both in addressing the identified and known pathways where we see young people enter homelessness; responding as early as possible to provide safe and appropriate individual plans that are created with each young person – in many cases this will include safe affordable accommodation options; and most importantly maintaining a direct relationship with each young person so they are not left alone to navigate an impossibly complex “adult designed homelessness system,” Mr Hall said.

Another contributor to the report, the Australian Red Cross, which provides frontline services to people experiencing homelessness including a tenancy support program to assist people who can no longer afford the private rental market.

Suitable Accommodation

“Prevention is better than the cure. Suitable and affordable accommodation can have profound benefits on the lives of individuals, families and the community. Australia needs to consider a whole of housing continuum response to homelessness which includes the prevention of homelessness, through the provision of long term, client focused and strengths-based support.

“We know that once a person becomes homeless, the trauma and impact is significantly higher than if we support someone to remain in their own home. Becoming homeless is not just the loss of a house. It is the potential loss to families, connection, employment, community and home. We want to prevent that from happening through our client focused support,” said Daisy Ashworth, Community Programs Lead, Australian Red Cross.

Recommendations

The report makes seven recommendations presented against the end goal of ending homelessness in Western Australia and specifically addresses the best mix and level of funding for homelessness services to best meet the needs of those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

“Ending homelessness in Western Australia is achievable and we have world class service providers with the expertise to achieve outcomes, but what they lack are the resources and infrastructure to do it. The Western Australian Government’s Homelessness Strategy represents the right approach, but just needs an additional boost in funding. When combined with new commitments on social housing and a more proactive Labor Government federally in terms of homelessness we would expect to see tangible reductions in homelessness going forward,” Professor Flatau concluded.

“Shelter WA looks forward to working with the State and Federal government on the policies, programs and new investment that is desperately needed so that all people have access to the housing and services they require when times are tough,” said Michelle Mackenzie, Chief Executive Officer of Shelter WA.

The reports recommends:

  • Leadership and proactivity at the Australian Government level for a national homelessness strategy and an explicit end homelessness national target.
  • An increase in the supply of social and affordable housing.
  • Application of Housing First programs, including through Aboriginal-led programs and government funding and expansion of Zero Projects.
  • Diverse supportive housing and homelessness models.
  • Increase the funding and scale of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled homelessness services.
  • Targeted prevention and early intervention homelessness programs particularly in the areas of children and young people, and clients exiting child protection and justice settings; and
  • A review and increase in homelessness services funding, commissioning and contracting in Western Australia.

Report author Professor Paul Flatau is available for interview on 0447 767 719.

The Report

Read the full report here.

 

The Centre for Social Impact

CSI UWA delivers education that transforms, research that informs and community impact that builds positive social change. We are part of the Centre for Social Impact network – a collaboration between UWA, UNSW, Swinburne University and Flinders University.

Fast Facts

  • The 2016 ABS Census estimates over 9,000 people were experiencing homelessness in WA, with homelessness rates higher in regional areas compared to city areas.
  • The By-Name List shows there were 883 people experiencing homelessness in Perth, Fremantle and surrounds in April 2022, including 398 people sleeping rough. Up to 70 per cent of people on the By-Name List do not have a case worker.
  • Key drivers of homelessness are housing supply and affordability, poverty, lack of economic and employment opportunities, and family and domestic violence.
  • In 2020-21, almost 25,000 Western Australians accessed Specialist Homelessness Services with 66 per cent receiving accommodation support.
  • At March 2022, the social housing waitlist was 18,738 households (32,873 people), including 3952 households (8006 people) on the priority list.
  • Vacancy rates across WA are at record low levels, with Perth vacancy rates at less than one per cent for eighteen consecutive months, and rents across WA have increased by up to 17 per cent in the year to April 2022.
  • While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represented 4.1 per cent of the WA population in December 2020, they made up 64 per cent of met demand for accommodation services in 2020-21, and 50.5 per cent of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) clients.
  • There is a current unmet need of 39,200 social and 19,300 affordable homes across Western Australia. If we continue on the same trajectory, it has been estimated that by 2036 WA will have a shortage of 86,400 social homes and 32,000 affordable homes.