Crisis accommodation in crisis
Each year more than 160,000 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness seek crisis accommodation from SHS. Not all can be accommodated, and many are turned away. For those who do access crisis accommodation, experiences vary significantly.
31 Aug 2023
New research, ‘Crisis accommodation in Australia: now and for the future’, undertaken for AHURI by researchers from Swinburne University, Launch Housing, University of South Australia and Flinders University, explores the different crisis accommodation models operating in Australia to find out what works and what doesn’t. It highlights a range of gaps in the availability and quality of crisis accommodation that people receive, as well as the urgent need to improve exit options to longer term accommodation. It also steps out what’s needed to fix crisis accommodation.
Purchased crisis accommodation options are often inadequate or unsuitable
SHS managed crisis accommodation supports a range of people experiencing acute housing need and is concentrated in capital cities and major towns, with limited options available in regional and remote areas.
‘To meet the high demands for housing, State and territory governments and SHS across Australia rely on purchasing short-term accommodation from private operators such as boarding houses, hotels, motels, hostels and caravan parks,’ says key researcher Dr Deb Batterham from Swinburne University and Launch Housing. ‘This accommodation is often inappropriate and provides inadequate support for those who need it. The situation is particularly difficult in regional and remote areas where people experiencing homelessness often have to travel significant distances to access accommodation and have fewer options available to them, meaning many are forced to remain in, or return to, unsuitable or unsafe housing situations.’
"The waitlist for public housing is eight to ten years regardless of priority level, so basically people access crisis accommodation and when they leave they have nowhere to go…So they return to community, return to that crisis space, whether it’s to a violent situation, or it’s returning to sleeping rough. And they just cycle in and out of that crisis space".
- Key sector stakeholder.
"We have to hold on and supply crisis accommodation indefinitely while we’re waiting for options that don’t really exist. There’s just this limbo".
- SHS or Access worker.
Making crisis accommodation work
The report found that for crisis accommodation to work well, it needs to be provided by specialist homelessness services. Purchased accommodation should not be used unless it meets minimum standards. Key features essential for crisis accommodation to offer include:
- Length of stay should be flexible depending on client needs and circumstances.
- Services must have caring and supportive staff, staff with lived experience of homelessness and Aboriginal workers to support cultural safety.
- Support should be trauma-informed and include mental health supports and a pathway to permanent housing. Physical health supports, material aid, Alcohol and other drug counselling, support with navigating Centrelink and other government services, access to legal advice and support with child protection issues are also important.
- Accommodation should be safe, good quality and self-contained, with kitchen facilities and private bathrooms. There should be options that allow people to keep pets with them.
- People staying in crisis accommodation should be provided support that continues on after they exit crisis accommodation to long-term housing to ensure tenancy sustainment.
"It's very supportive. They contact you every two days, talk to you every two days…I guess you can talk to them about everything, and anything they don’t seem to have any specialisation in or experience in, they refer you to people that do. And yeah, if you have problems, they send you in the right direction".
- Female, 50. (Quotes from people with lived experience who stayed in SHS managed crisis accommodation)
More appropriate and sustainable accommodation options are urgently needed for people to exit to from crisis accommodation
‘The main exit options from crisis accommodation are to social housing, private rental housing and permanent supportive housing, all of which are in critically short supply,’ says Dr Batterham.
‘Our research highlights that there’s significant need for appropriate and affordable long–term housing for people to move to after crisis accommodation. The reality is that anything less sets people up for repeated tenancy failure and compounded trauma. It’s an inefficient use of resources and doesn’t meaningfully address homelessness’
‘We also need to think about interim measures that may help improve exit options, such as increasing the rate of Centrelink payments and the rate for Commonwealth Rent Assistance to make private rental housing an affordable option for some,’ says Dr Batterham. ‘But ultimately we need to significantly increase the supply of new appropriate and affordable rental housing, both social and private, to increase the suitable exit options for those in crisis accommodation.’