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Stop the bodgy count

By Alice Clark - posted Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The latest street count survey figures were released at the end of August this year alongside claims that homelessness had halved in South Australia . Shelter SA expressed concerns then that the street count clouds the truth about the real numbers of people who are homeless. Last week, Dr. Alice Clark, Acting Executive Director of Shelter SA called on Minister Jennifer Rankine to cease conducting the street count as a matter of urgency and to stop the next survey from going ahead.

The community needs to challenge claims like the ones made by the Social inclusion Board about "successfully counting rough sleeping to support better planning for and delivery of services" and that "we've halved the number of people sleeping rough on Adelaide's streets". The latest Shelter SA media release aims to encourage debate and dialogue between stakeholders.

The main concern here is that the focus on counting people and ways of collecting data about the performance of homelessness agencies does not provide information about the need for services or the quality of the services being provided. Shelter SA is currently conducting a consultation of both members and non-members and participants have been talking about more reliable ways of evaluating services and deciding on funding than surveys like the street count. The government's Homeless 2 Home (H2H) system relies on people presenting for assistance and support but does not have the capacity to accurately measure need or reflect the other complexities involved in accessing support and accommodation from the client perspective.


A 2011 Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute paper released in July for example, reports that homeless people face significant barriers to accessing services, often homelessness services have low visibility in the community and a there is a general lack of knowledge about what services are available and how to contact them.

The 'no wrong door' service delivery model utilised by homelessness service providers can create significant complexity and logistical barriers for clients. While the intention of the model is for clients to receive appropriate referrals from their initial point of contact, the actual client experience is generally one of confusion and exclusion. Additionally, when clients do manage to approach services, have felt unwelcome when contact does not lead to the provision of appropriate assistance.

Instead of comparing inputs to outputs (funding and numbers of clients), we need to compare inputs to need AND outputs to outcomes, if we want to measure quality and the impact of services on the client. For example, when a service has been accessed by a homeless person there is often no further details about whether that led to an appropriate intervention or other outcomes for the client.

Participants in the Shelter SA consultation have also talked about the heavy administrative requirements that take them away from their day to day activities with homeless people. When agencies receive funding from numerous sources, each funding provider has different requirements as to data that is collected. The complexity of homelessness client issues means that some agencies have to access numerous sources of funding. The time needed to collect and enter client data can add up and take workers away from direct client work.

Participants also flagged that a lack of housing is a critical issue, especially emergency accommodation, that affects the capacity of homelessness services to respond appropriately to crisis situations. Participants talked about urgently needing better ways to provide crisis accommodation and this finding is confirmed by figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that indicate Nationally, despite the large number of homelessness agencies providing accommodation services, only 33% of support periods involved access to accommodation with the majority of clients receiving only support. In terms of need, these figures indicate there is a high level of unmet need for accommodation and suggests that the majority of people experiencing homelessness are not being directly assisted with supported accommodation.

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Homelessness SA endorses the views of Shelter SA regarding the street count.

Shelter SA is the peak body for housing and homelessness in South Australia, advocating for the housing needs of low income and disadvantaged people. For more information please contact Alice on 0425 060 649 or

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About the Author

Dr Alice Clark is the Acting Executive Director of Shelter SA.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Alice Clark

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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