ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

ACT homelessness data - A closer look

16 March 2018

ACTCOSS has been working with community organisations including ACT Shelter to press for continued action on homelessness in Canberra following the release of 2016 ABS Census figures this week.

These point to a fall in the overall rate of homelessness, but highlight the continued demand for support services as well as people continuing to sleeping rough in the ACT. 

Our commentary focused on the need for ongoing assistance services.

AIHW analysis tells us that, compared to national figures, people in the ACT accessing specialist homelessness assistance services are more likely to be homeless when they enter the service. Only half the people who were homeless when they entered the service were assisted into housing when they left. 

In addition:

  • Relationship and family breakdown are a significantly higher cause of seeking housing assistance than the national average
  • Single people are more likely to be homeless
  • Employed people are more likely to be homeless
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented - 7 times the rate of seeking homelessness assistance
  • More than double the time is spent in assistance services, and almost triple the time is spent in crisis accommodation
  • Public and community housing is the primary pathway for housing for people leaving assistance services.

This indicates a need for:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community led housing assistance and supply
  • More exit options to address long lengths of stay and low levels of stable housing after crisis assistance
  • Recognition that costs of housing in this city are creating a higher risk for single income households including those who are employed which means we need a housing supply response, not only increases in specialist service provision.

The 2016 Census figures also showed a decrease the overall number of homeless people and an increase in the number of rough sleepers; our commentary stressed the importance of looking at numbers over time. 

Taken collectively, the figures indicate the ACT has a sustained, entrenched problem that is, on the whole, getting worse since the turn of the century. In 2001, we had 943 homeless persons; in 2007: 949 persons; in 2011: 1738 persons; and in 2016: 1596 persons.

We have no cause for complacency. The community knows what needs to be done in the ACT to eliminate homelessness. This includes:

  • Matching the level of funding to ACT crisis and support services to need
  • Requiring all directorates to contribute funding and report on its impact
  • Growing the supply of affordable housing
  • Growth in public housing in line with population growth
  • Planning reform to improve diversity of housing
  • Investment of $100m to build housing that is affordable, accessible and offers secure tenancies to low income households.

Nationally, there is an increase in homelessness of 13.7% since 2011. This points to a need for Commonwealth investments in national partnerships, as well as addressing adequacy of income support payments, especially Newstart, which are too low to cover basic living costs.

You can see the Census figures here and our media release here.