15/12/2016 10:07 AM AEDT | Updated 15/12/2016 11:49 AM AEDT

Family Violence Boosts Record Demand For Homelessness Services

Two in five people seeking homelessness services are doing so to flee domestic and family violence

An increasing number of people who are seeking homelessness services are doing so to flee family and domestic violence, a federal government agency says.

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows that national client numbers reached over 279,000 in 2015–16, up from nearly 256,000 in 2014–15.

Of those, 106,000, or 38 percent, sought support due to domestic and family violence.

"This is a 33 percent increase since 2011–12, when the collection began, and a 14 percent increase since 2014–15," AIHW spokesperson Anna Ritson said.

Growth in the number of people seeking support due to domestic and family violence outpaced growth in overall client numbers, which grew by 9 percent between 2014–15 and 2015–16.

"It is important to note that increases in client numbers generally reflect the increased availability and accessibility of services, not necessarily a change in the underlying level of homelessness or domestic and family violence in Australia," Ritson said.

The new figures come just a week after the federal government only committed to a further one-year extension of funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness.

The $117 million federal funding came just months before the agreement was set to run dry, and while the extension was welcomed, homelessness agencies criticised the government for only committing to one more year.

Overall, the AIHW report showed Indigenous clients continued to be over represented among clients of homelessness services, with 1 in 4, or about 61,700, identifying as Indigenous -- higher than the rate among the general population of 1 in 33.

Housing affordability continues to be a significant factor for those accessing homelessness services -- around 60 percent of clients identified housing affordability and financial difficulties as a reason for seeking assistance, and this has remained fairly steady for the past 3 years.

Only one in three intimate partner assaults were reported to the police.

"And for over 20 percent of clients, mental health, medical issues or substance use were among the reasons for seeking specialist homelessness support," Ritson said.

The report also shows that an increasing proportion of clients are now aged over 45.

"Clients in this age group now represent around 1 in 5 of all clients -- an increase of 6,500 clients compared with the previous year," Ritson said.

In NSW the data showed 45,240 people sought accommodation support from specialist homeless services, an increase of 39 percent in 2013-2014, Homelessness NSW said.

Specialist Homeless Services were unable to provide accommodation assistance for over 34 percent of those that sought it.

"Homelessness will continue to rise in New South Wales and nationally unless governments urgently invest in the social housing system and appropriately resource Specialist Homelessness Services to meet the current demand," CEO of Homelessness NSW, Katherine McKernan, said in a statement.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR):

  • The odds of experiencing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) are nearly 20 times higher for women who have previously experienced emotional abuse from a partner compared with those with no such history.
  • BOCSAR analysed the responses from 7,800 women across Australia, and found 500 (6 percent) reported having experienced some form of IPV in the two years prior to the survey.
  • Women were more likely to experience IPV if they lacked support; had experienced emotional abuse from a current or previous partner; or were under financial stress.
  • A sole parent who did not have a registered marriage, experienced abuse as a child, was unable to pay the rent on time and had experienced emotional abuse by a partner had a 97 percent chance of experiencing IPV over the last 2 years.
  • The report showed that close to half of clients experiencing domestic and family violence in 2015-16 were single parents, and over three-quarters were female.

Ensuring a resourced and funded specialist homelessness sector is vital to ensuring the safety of those escaping domestic and family violence, said Domestic Violence NSW CEO Moo Baulch.

"Increasing numbers of women and children who have experienced domestic and family violence are seeking assistance from Specialist Homelessness Services. But services are not being funded to keep up with this demand," Baulch said.

Experts told The Huffington Post Australia last week short-term funding commitments make it very difficult for homelessness services to plan long-term projects such as investing in housing stock or begin new social programs.

"It's uncertainty. We're appreciative but 12 months goes quickly. A year is a short period of time," said Catherine Yeomans, CEO of Mission Australia, last week.

"What we have to do is only extend leases for a 12-month period, our staff only have 12 months certainty, the people we work with only know the services they rely on are only certain for 12 months. There is alarming increases in homelessness, we need long term services.

Jenny Smith, chair of peak body Homelessness Australia likened the situation to being parked at the bottom of the cliff and catching bodies as they fall over.

"We need a strategy at the top of the cliff, tackling housing affordability, early intervention services. We haven't had an investment via the federal government for affordable housing since the GFC," she said.