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Number of Australians with mental health issues needing homelessness help doubled in a decade

October 10, 2021

Better access to housing and income support is needed to address an alarming increase in homelessness among people experiencing mental ill-health says Homelessness Australia as World Homelessness Day and World Mental Health Day coincide on 10 October.

In 2019-20, 88,338 people with mental health issues sought homelessness assistance across Australia, almost double the 44,732 Australians needing assistance in 2011-12*. More recent monthly data shows a further 6% increase between June 2020 and June 2021**.

Homelessness Australia Chair Jenny Smith says growing homelessness among people struggling with their mental health highlights gaps in the safety net, as well as inadequate support for people with mental ill health.

“If you’re struggling and unable to work it is basically impossible to afford rent on the inadequate JobSeeker payment, and people who need it can’t get into social housing,” Smith says.

“Many also can’t access the mental health care they need, as they can’t afford it or face long queues through Medicare or hospitals.
“More people are becoming homeless because they are falling through the gaping holes in the income security, housing and health care safety nets.

“The shocking increase in homelessness among people with mental health issues should sound the alarm bells for Government to increase income support for people struggling with their health, and to provide more social housing.

Some people coming to homelessness services with significant mental health issues also need ongoing support to sustain housing. The dire shortage of Housing First options in Australia, which provide access to long-term affordable housing as well as flexible wrap around support, also means that the most vulnerable people with mental illness who are homeless do not get the housing and support they need.

“Lack of available housing and support means there is a revolving door for the most vulnerable people between homelessness services, acute mental health services, and rough sleeping.

“We know we can end homelessness for people with serious mental health issues with access to stable housing and support, but to make that possible for more people the Federal Government needs to urgently invest in more social housing in partnership with the States and Territories.”

*: AIHW, Specialist homelessness services 2019–20, Supplementary Tables – Historical Data 2011-12 to 2019-20.

**: AIHW, SHS client groups, by state/territory and sex, July 2017 to June 2021, Specialist Homelessness Service Monthly Data, June 2021.

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