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A key action under the NSW Homelessness Strategy 2018-2023 is to improve the evidence base for homelessness prevention and early intervention programs.

The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) commissioned analytics and actuarial consultancy Taylor Fry to complete detailed analysis on the government services people use before, during and after experiencing homelessness.

The linked dataset created for the Pathways to Homelessness report is one of the most comprehensive datasets related to homelessness in Australia, covering 625,000 people across 19 NSW and Commonwealth government services including housing, health, welfare, justice, education, and out-of-home care.

The Pathways to Homelessness report is accompanied by an interactive data dashboard, where the data informing the report can be explored further. Instructions for using the dashboards can be found here.

The analysis helps us to understand the factors that lead people to seek assistance from homelessness services, to identify opportunities to help people sooner and support investment in initiatives with the greatest potential to improve outcomes across the whole service system.

The findings also support key initiatives to deliver the Premier’s Priority to halve street homelessness by 2025, including programs with a focus on people exiting government services such as social housing, health facilities and correctional centres.

Overview of analysis

The research applies a set of analyses to the data:

  1. Descriptive statistics to understand the key characteristics of homelessness presentations.
  2. Predictive modelling to identify people with a high likelihood of accessing homelessness services in the future, and associated factors to support intervention.
  3. Two-way pathway analysis, which looks at homelessness presentations that follow other service use, to identify potential intervention points and estimate the elevated cost across government services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
  4. Additional analysis on vulnerable cohorts, including:
    1. Financial hardship
    2. Mental health conditions
    3. Substance use
    4. Domestic and family violence
    5. Exiting custody
    6. Leaving out-of-home care
    7. Aboriginal people.

Key findings

Characteristics of people accessing homelessness services

The linked dataset includes six years of homelessness services data for between July 2011 and June 2017. This data provides important information about the pattern of presentations to homelessness services.

People accessing Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) have significantly higher use of other government services than the broader population, often over ten times the rate.

Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) support is the most commonly required specialist support for people accessing SHS. Over six years to 2016/17, 23% of SHS clients required DFV support, followed by mental health support (14%), family support (12%) and legal support (10%).

Use of other government services

The Pathways to Homelessness report analyses patterns in the use of other government services in the year before accessing homelessness services.

Compared to the broader NSW population, in any given year people accessing SHS are:

  • 24 times more likely to be in controlled drug treatment
  • 20 times more likely to have been in custody
  • 16 times more likely to be receiving private rental assistance
  • 13 times more likely to access Legal Aid
  • 10 times more likely to appear in Court.

Early-identification of people at risk of homelessness

A key aim of the research is to support early identification of groups at risk of homelessness. The analysis identifies the most important factors for predicting homelessness, based on modelling using cross-agency service use and demographic information.

The main predictive model covers all presentations to homelessness services and is built on quarterly records in 2014/15 and 2015/16. The model shows:

  • 32% of homelessness presentations can be attributed to 1% of the NSW population.
  • The 1% group at highest risk are more than 30 times more likely to access homelessness services in the next year than the general population.
  • In addition to broad service use such as welfare services and Medicare, the most important risk factors for the group at highest risk are repeated homelessness service use, police-recorded victim incidents, social housing history, and court appearances. Aboriginal people are overrepresented in the group at highest risk.

Identifying potential intervention points

Many NSW services are good potential intervention points for homelessness prevention and early intervention. Two-way pathway analysis examines other government services used in the year before accessing homelessness services to identify the risk uplift, coverage, and potential cost savings for different intervention points.

  • The risk uplift refers to how many more times likely a person is to access homelessness services if they have accessed a given service.
  • The coverage is the proportion of people presenting to homelessness services who also accessed a given service in the previous year.
  • The cost difference is the additional costs across government services over three years for people who accessed both services, compared to people who just accessed the first service but did not go on to access homelessness services. It is per person and represents an upper bound on the potential cost savings from an effective intervention.

These measures in combination can indicate government services with the greatest potential for introducing interventions aimed at preventing homelessness.

Several NSW Government services provide a good balance of all three measures:

Walk-in mental health services Court appearances Legal Aid

13x more likely to access homelessness services

16% of future homelessness services clients

$58k potential savings per person across NSW Government services from a successful intervention

15x more likely to access homelessness services

16% of future homelessness services clients

$70k potential savings per person across NSW Government services from a successful intervention

17x more likely to access homelessness services

16% of future homelessness services clients

$55k potential savings per person across NSW Government services from a successful intervention

Reducing the costs of homelessness across NSW Government services

Understanding pathways to homelessness has important benefits in reducing the costs of homelessness for individuals, communities and government services.

The average cost to government over six years for people accessing homelessness services is $186k, nearly four times higher than the NSW population. Only 9% of costs relate to the homelessness and housing services.

Within this group of people accessing homelessness services, the 5% with the highest cost represent 1,500 people. The average cost to government across six years is $706k per person, with 84% of these costs attributable to NSW health and justice services.

Vulnerable cohorts

Cross-agency data provides powerful insights for some vulnerable cohorts, including support needs and opportunities for prevention and early intervention in responding to homelessness.

Financial hardship

  • People who have been on long term income support and rent assistance are at higher risk of homelessness:
    • 1 in 10 people on working age payments and rent assistance access homelessness services over a year (107,000). The risk increases significantly for people who have experienced repeat homelessness.
    • 1 in 12 people on parenting payments and rent assistance access homelessness services over a year (79,000). DFV victim incidents are high for this group.

Mental health

  • Over the six years to June 2017, 14% of people accessing homelessness services had a mental health service need.
  • People with evidence of acute mental health issues in their service history are nine times more likely than those in the general population to present to homelessness services.

Substance use

  • People with drug and alcohol-related service history are eight times more likely to access homelessness services.
  • People with drug and alcohol-related service use are more likely to be male and older compared to all homelessness services clients, although younger people with drug and alcohol service use still appear to be at higher risk of needing support.

Domestic and Family Violence

  • Over the six years to June 2017, one-fifth of presentations (23%) to homelessness services reported a DFV service need. This group is more likely to be female and accompanied by children.
  • People experiencing DFV are 20 times more likely than the wider NSW population to access homelessness services within a year of a police-recorded DFV incident. The risk is highest in the months immediately following the DFV incident but falls quickly.
  • People accessing homelessness services with a DFV service need have a less intensive cross-sector service use history than other clients. Homelessness services may represent an early point of contact with government services for many within this vulnerable group.

Exiting custody

  • One in eight (12.4%) people leaving custody access homelessness services within a year – 20 times the rate of the wider NSW population. The rate for Aboriginal people is double that for non-Aboriginal people.
  • A large proportion of people exiting custody also access Legal Aid (40%) and appear in court (38%) between their custody exit and accessing homelessness services.

Young people leaving out-of-home care

  • For young people leaving OOHC in the five years to June 2016, one in six (17%) accessed homelessness services in the next year, evidence of significant housing instability for this group.
  • Previous homelessness, walk-in mental health service use, and court appearances (including Youth Justice Centres and police cautions) are all predictive of increased risk of later accessing homelessness services.
  • OOHC leavers who have already accessed SHS or Temporary Accommodation prior to leaving care for the final time have a 91% chance of experiencing repeated homelessness.

Aboriginal people

  • Aboriginal people are significantly overrepresented in homelessness services, with one-third of people (30%) who access SHS identifying as Aboriginal.
  • Aboriginal people have elevated service use across all services compared to the broader NSW population, but particularly for homelessness services (10x), court appearances (7x), Legal Aid (6x) and walk-in mental health services (4x).
  • Aboriginal people with previous homelessness service use in the past three years are at very high risk of future homelessness. People experiencing repeat homelessness represent nearly half of SHS presentations by Aboriginal people.

More information

If you have any questions or feedback about Pathways to Homelessness please contact the DCJ Homelessness Strategy team at Homelessness.Strategy@facs.nsw.gov.au

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Last updated: 23 Feb 2022