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Clients who approach Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) for assistance do so for a variety of different reasons, but similarly they all have a lack of suitable housing or are facing the prospect of losing their current housing. This web report examines the key characteristics of SHS clients who present to services for assistance in one of three cohorts: rough sleepers, couch surfers, or resident of short-term or emergency accommodation.

Table of contents

Between 2011–12 and 2014–15


graphic for crowd

441,992 clients aged 15 and over approached SHS agencies for assistance.

6 in 10 (61%) were female; more than 1 in 2 (54%) were aged 15–34; 1 in 6 (16%) were Indigenous, and almost 2 in 3 (64%) were in Major cities.


graphic for rough sleeper

39,371 clients were sleeping rough (9% of SHS clients aged 15+).

2 in 3 (66%) of those sleeping rough were male, and more than half (53%) were aged 35 or over.


graphic for couch surfer

52,729 clients were couch surfing. (12% of all SHS clients).

6 in 10 (58%) couch surfers were female, and almost half (47%) were aged 15–24.


graphic for short-term / emergency accommodation

47,501 clients were in short-term emergency accommodation. (11% of all SHS clients).

Just over half (53%) of those in short-term or emergency accommodation were female, and more than half (56%) were aged 15–35.


graphic for need for accommodation

Accommodation provision was the highest need for all cohorts (78% rough sleepers, 73% couch surfers, 78% short-term or emergency accommodation)

Not all clients needing accommodation received it (62% of rough sleepers needing accommodation received it as did 49% of couch surfers and 72% of clients in short-term or emergency accommodation).


graphic for received accommodation

At the end of support, housing outcomes were better for couch surfers or those in short-term or emergency accommodation (29% were housed for both cohorts) than for rough sleepers (21%) .


Cohorts in summary

The key characteristics of each of the three cohorts examined in this web report are outlined below.

Figure 1: Summary of cohort key characteristics

graphic for SHS client profiles figure 1: summary of cohort key characteristics

Sources: Rough sleepers, Couch surfers, Short-term/emergency clients.

For the period 2011–12 to 2014–15:

Rough sleepers were typically male, aged 35 years or over and located in Major cities. When compared with the overall SHSC population rough sleepers were more likely to present to services alone and report a mental health issue or have been diagnosed with a mental health issue. They were less likely to be employed or have experienced domestic and family violence, and were more likely to be Indigenous or to report a drug or substance abuse issue. Rough sleepers mainly sought assistance from SHS due to accommodation or financial issues, particularly housing crisis or financial difficulties.

Couch surfers were typically female, aged less than 25 years, and located in Major cities. When compared with the overall SHSC population, couch surfers were less likely to be employed and more likely to be Indigenous. Female couch surfers were most likely to present to services accompanied (by one or more children, with another family member or as part of a group) and were more likely to have experienced domestic or family violence. Male couch surfers were more likely to present alone and to report a drug or substance abuse issue. While accommodation issues are the primary driver for seeking assistance, difficulties with interpersonal relationships including relationship breakdowns and domestic and family violence were the next most common causes for seeking assistance. This may be related to the fact that couch surfers are often young women, and domestic and family violence and family breakdown are key drivers of homelessness among this cohort.

Short-term or emergency accommodation residents were typically female, aged less than 35 years, and located in Major cities. When compared with the overall SHSC population, they were less likely to be employed and more likely to be Indigenous. Short-term or emergency accommodation residents were more likely to present to services accompanied, with females more likely to present with one or more children. Females in short-term or emergency accommodation were also more likely to have ever experienced domestic or family violence, while males were more likely to have reported ever having a current mental health issue or have been diagnosed with a mental health issue.

Where to from here?

A more detailed report on the SHS users outlined in these key findings, will be released in the first half of 2017.

These pages were last updated in October 2016.