Homeless Australia

Homelessness is on the rise in Australia. Some 116,400 Australians are without a home — the highest number since the census began estimating the prevalence of homelessness.

The latest figures show that despite sustained economic growth in Australia, homelessness has continued to rise, with a 14 per cent increase in the number of homeless people since 2011.

The increase cannot be pinned on population growth alone — the rate of homelessness has also increased, from 47.6 people per 10,000 Australians in 2011 to 49.8 in 2016.

Homelessness is most common among young Australians — 58 per cent of homeless people are aged 34 or younger, while only 46 per cent of all Australians fall within that demographic.

Indigenous Australians also remain vastly overrepresented. Despite making up less than 3 per cent of the Australian population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders account for 20 per cent of the homeless population.

Most commonly, homeless Australians reside in severely overcrowded dwellings, where nearly half (44 per cent) seek shelter. One in every 14 homeless people lives on the street.

NSW has both the largest and fastest growing homeless population; there was a 37 per cent increase in the number of homeless people in the five years to 2016, and a 27 per cent increase in the rate of homelessness.

Despite this, some good news arises from the latest data. Numbers of homeless people in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and the ACT have all fallen, while the proportion of Indigenous Australians who are homeless continues to decline. The number of homeless children aged 18 and under is also declining.

Thirty-two per cent of Australia’s homeless population lives in NSW. Other states and territories account for 21 per cent (Victoria), 19 per cent (Queensland), 12 per cent (the Northern Territory), 8 per cent (Western Australia), 5 per cent (South Australia) and 1 per cent each in the ACT and Tasmania.

The ABS categorises homeless people according to their living situation:

Homelessness is a loss of a sense of security, stability, privacy or safety, or the ability to control your living space.

In Australia, the two most commonly used sources of information about homelessness are Specialist Homeless Services (SHS) data collected by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), and the Census of Population and Housing undertaken every five years by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

This fact file, based on the latest ABS census data and AIHW data, updates Fact Check’s previous homeless interactive, which was one of the first to use geographical areas to reveal how the distribution and rates of homelessness have changed over time.


State by state

Homelessness has grown the most in NSW; between 2011 and 2016, there was a 37 per cent increase in the number of homeless people in the state, and a 27 per cent increase in the rate of homelessness.

Indeed, over the decade to 2016, the rate of homelessness in NSW increased by 49 per cent.

NSW now has the highest rate of homelessness outside of the Northern Territory.

Data source: ABS

Young adults

While the increased rate of homelessness in NSW was across the board, young adults (19-24) fared worst, with a 45 per cent increase in the five years to 2016 — nearly three times the national increase for the same age group.

Over the same period, there was a 49 per cent rise in the rate of homelessness for 25 to 34 year olds in NSW.

NSW was the only state to see an increase in the rate of homelessness for children aged under 12 — from 33.8 children per 10,000 in 2011, to 35.2 in 2016.

Older people

That’s not to say homelessness is any less an issue for older people in NSW. Between 2011 and 2016 the rate of homelessness for people aged 55 to 64 increased by 32 per cent, for those 65 to 74 it increased by 22 per cent and for those 75 and older it increased by 8 per cent.

The good news

It’s not all bad news for NSW: the rate of homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders decreased by 17 per cent over the same time.

Support services in NSW

Rates of use of homeless support services in NSW are lower than for the national average, with the reasons for seeking support differing from national patterns.

In NSW, 54 per cent of those people who seek support do so due to a housing crisis, compared with 44 per cent nationally. Financial difficulties and housing affordability (42 per cent and 31 per cent), are the next most common reasons for seeking support.

People in NSW are less likely to seek help from homeless support services due to domestic and family violence, with a rate of 33.2 people per 10,000 tapping these services compared to 47.4 nationally.


Homelessness is most common among young Australians, though the rate is increasing sharply among older people.

Almost six in every 10 homeless people in Australia (59 per cent) are aged 34 or younger, compared to 46 per cent of all Australians falling within that demographic.

The rate of homelessness is rising for all age groups other than for children under 18 and for people aged 75 years and older.

Fifty-eight per cent of homeless people in Australia are men.

Young people

Australians aged 19 to 24 experience the highest rate of homelessness, at 95.3 homeless people per 10,000 — a 15 per cent increase since 2011. The rate of homelessness for 25 to 34 year-olds is increasing at a similar pace (up 16 per cent since 2011).

However, there is good news. The rate of homelessness has fallen by 16 per cent for children under 12 and by 8 per cent for children between 12 and 18 years of age.

Older Australians

Older people are faring badly. The rate of homelessness for people aged 55 to 64 has increased by 14 per cent, to 39 people per 10,000.

For people aged 65 to 74, the homelessness rate has increased 7 per cent.

The rate of homelessness for elderly people 75 and over has remained steady since the last census.

Homeless rate and age in NSW

Data source: ABS


Men make up between 58 and 60 per cent of homeless people in all jurisidictions except for the Northern Territory, where equal numbers of men and women are homeless.

Men make up three-quarters of those in boarding houses and 66 per cent of rough sleepers.

Support services

One in five clients for specialist homelessness services are 45 or older, with an 8 per cent rise in the number of people aged over 45 seeking support since 2015-16. For those aged under 45 there was a 2 per cent increase over the same period.

Of people seeking homelessness support, one in six are children aged under 10, and more than a quarter aged under 18. The largest proportion of people seeking support are those aged 25 to 34, accounting for almost one in five clients.

Slightly more than 40 per cent of those who seek support are homeless when they first present; the rest are housed but “at risk”.

Women are more likely to seek out support, with more women presenting to specialist homelessness services than men (59 per cent), despite only accounting for 42 per cent of the homeless population.


There are 8,200 people in impoverished dwellings, tents or sleeping out in Australia — 20 per cent more than there were in 2011.

Rough sleepers account for 7 per cent of the homeless population, a proportion that has increased, albeit slightly, since the last census.

Men are more likely to be rough sleepers, making up two-thirds of the count, though the proportion of females who are sleeping out is increasing.

Data source: ABS

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up around one-quarter (26 per cent) of rough sleepers in Australia. Of these, 37 per cent are in the Northern Territory.

State by state

NSW has seen the largest increase in people staying in improvised dwellings and tents, or sleeping out, with a 35 per cent increase in numbers of rough sleepers and a 25 per cent increase in the rate since 2011.

Rough sleeping in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT is also on the rise, while in Victoria and Queensland the rate is mostly steady.

Rough sleeping in the Northern Territory is on the rise, with a 20 per cent increase over the same period.

Data source: ABS

Support services

Rough sleepers account for almost a quarter of people accessing homelessness support services. At the conclusion of provided support, 61 per cent of rough sleepers remain homeless.

Most rough sleepers who remain homeless once their support ends continue to sleep rough, though more than a quarter are in short-term temporary accommodation. Less than 10 per cent become couch surfers at the conclusion of support.

Of those rough sleepers finding long-term accommodation through support services, more than half do so in private housing; 37 per cent are accommodated in public housing and 7 per cent in institutional settings.


Almost one in every 25 Indigenous Australians is homeless — roughly 10 times the rate of homelessness for non-Indigenous Australians and seven times the rate for all Australians.

While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 2.8 per cent of the Australian population, they account for 20 per cent of homeless population.

Where are they?

Indigenous Australians are further overrepresented in rough sleeping data, with more than a quarter (26 per cent) of all people in impoverished dwellings, tents or sleeping out identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Looking at Indigenous homeless people overall, most were found to reside in severely overcrowded accommodation (70 per cent), supported accommodation for the homeless (12 per cent) or were rough sleepers (9 per cent).

Homeless rates for Indigenous and non-Indigenous

Data source: ABS

But some recent improvement

However, the latest data shows a decrease in both the number and percentage of Indigenous homeless people.

In 2006, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders accounted for 29 per cent of the homeless population. This fell to 26 per cent in 2011 and to 20 per cent in 2016.

In absolute terms, the number of homeless Indigenous Australians has dropped from 26,718 in 2011 to around 23,437 in 2016.

Support services for Indigenous homeless people

Indigenous Australians are nine times more likely to use a specialist homelessness service than non-Indigenous Australians, and make up one-third of all people using those support services.

Indigenous Australians accessing support services do so at the highest rate in both inner and outer regional areas. More than half of Indigenous Australians accessing these services are aged under 25. One in four are children aged under 10.

Indigenous women aged 18 and older access homelessness support services at a rate twice that for Indigenous men.


People born overseas make up 28 per cent of Australia’s population, but account for almost half of homeless numbers (46 per cent). There’s been a 40 per cent increase in the number of homeless migrants since the last census.

Country of birth

The list of origin countries of homeless migrants is diverse. The largest single region represented by homeless migrants was southern and central Asia, accounting for 8 per cent of the homeless population.

Where are they?

Migrants are most overrepresented among people living in boarding houses, where they make up 63 per cent of the population.

Almost half (47 per cent) of all homeless migrants are in severely overcrowded dwellings, while 20 per cent are in boarding houses, 18 per cent are in supported accommodation, 9 per cent are staying temporarily with other households and 5 per cent are sleeping rough. Less than 1 per cent are in other temporary lodgings.

Number of homeless by country of birth

Data source: ABS

Homeless migrants seeking support

Despite making up almost half of Australia’s homeless population, migrants account for just 14 per cent of people seeking homelessness support.

Of those people born overseas and seeking support, the largest proportion come from New Zealand — 2 per cent of all people seeking support.

Photo credit: Nathan Beer

This article first appeared in ABC.net.au
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