Homelessness is a growing concern within contemporary society. The reality of homelessness has evolved from the traditional stereotype of the derelict old man on a park bench into a diverse range of ages, backgrounds and demographics. Homeless people are part of our community and, as such, need to be included in the census count. The census count of homeless people is important for the formation of policy and allocation of resources.
The ABS has adopted a cultural definition of homelessness which divides homeless people into four categories: the Primary Homeless; the Secondary Homeless, the Tertiary Homeless, and the Marginally Housed.
The Primary Homeless category includes people without a conventional "roof" over their heads, such as homeless people living on the streets, in deserted buildings, in improvised dwellings, under bridges, in parks, etc. The ABS has developed different procedures for counting these people due to factors such as low literacy and the transient nature of the population. In the lead up to the census, ABS staff in each state and territory identify areas where homeless people are likely to be found, and interviewers use a shortened version of the census form to record details from individuals. People who work with homeless people, and even homeless people themselves, are recruited and trained by the ABS to be interviewers.
The Secondary Homeless category includes people staying short term in boarding houses or moving between temporary forms of shelter, such as emergency accommodation, refuges or hostels. This group also includes "Couch Surfers", young people who are staying temporarily with friends and relatives.
The Tertiary Homeless category is composed of people who live in boarding houses on a longer term basis. Establishments such as boarding houses and emergency accommodation are identified by ABS staff in each state and territory prior to the census so that homeless people staying there can be included in the count. Homeless people who are not staying in identified accommodation for the homeless, such as "Couch Surfers", also need to be identified as being part of the homeless population. For the 2006 Census, the ABS is trialling and evaluating different instructions and procedures to assist with this identification.
The Marginally Housed category of homelessness includes people in housing situations close to the minimum standard. While the subjective nature of this category means that it is not able to be defined operationally, Chamberlain and MacKenzie have conducted specific analysis to identify marginal residents of caravan parks from 2001 Census data in the Australian Census Analytic Program publication Counting the Homeless, 2001 (cat. no. 2050.0).
A range of organisations dealing with the homeless will be consulted about strategies, procedures and promotional activities to be used for counting the homeless in the 2006 Census. The ABS will also be considering the further development of strategies appropriate for counting the Indigenous homeless population.