Chronic Homelessness

Chronic homelessness

Chronic homelessness is defined as an episode of homelessness lasting 6 months or longer or multiple episodes of homelessness over a 12 month period or more. People who experience chronic homelessness are likely to have complex needs, which means that they have one or more of the following:

  • Developmental disability
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Serious physical health problems
  • History of abuse or trauma
  • Mental illness
  • Mental disorder
  • Psychiatric disability

People experiencing chronic homelessness often transition from shelters to refuges to rough sleeping and boarding houses. This can continue for many years. They often engage with emergency services such as ambulance, hospital emergency departments, police and justice.

Of greater concern, people who are chronically homelessness are at a much greater risk of adverse health outcomes and early death. Research shows that people experiencing homelessness die up to 30 years earlier than their peers in housing.[i]

In the 2021 Census, 7,636 people were counted as sleeping rough. Given the count took place during COVID-19, it is likely that this number is underestimated. It is estimated that around 40% of the rough sleeping population and 20 – 30% of people in supported crisis accommodation are chronically homeless.

There are now a number of reports that show that the financial cost to society of ending someone’s homelessness is less than the cost of leaving people to live on the streets. [ii]


[11] Zaretzky, K. and Flatau, P. (2013) The cost of homelessness and the net benefit of homelessness programs: a national study, AHURI Final Report No. 218. Melbourne: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.

Equity Economics (2020) Double return: How investing in social housing can address the growing homelessness crisis and boost Australia’s economic recovery. A report for Everybody’s Home .