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2049.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/11/2012   
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SUMMARY OF FINDINGS


INTRODUCTION

Homelessness is not just the result of too few houses. Its causes are many and varied. Domestic violence, a shortage of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse all contribute to the level of homelessness in Australia (FaHCSIA, 2008). Homelessness is not a choice. Homelessness is one of the most potent examples of disadvantage in the community, and one of the most important markers of social exclusion (Department of Human Services, 2002).

Effective targeting of policies and services for reducing homelessness and allowing all Australians to participate in society requires transparent, consistent and repeatable statistics. However, there are many dimensions to homelessness, and different statistics are needed for different purposes. Guidance on using different data sources on homelessness will be released in 2012 in the ABS Information Paper: Guide to Homelessness Statistics (cat. no. 4923.0).

Prevalence estimates (of how many people experienced homelessness at a particular point-in-time) allow society to judge the scale of homelessness, and can be used to report trends and to target services to prevent or ameliorate the circumstances of homelessness through knowing both the locations of the homeless and their characteristics.

While homelessness itself is not a characteristic that is directly collected in the Census of Population and Housing, estimates of the homeless population may be derived from the Census using analytical techniques based on both the characteristics observed in the Census and assumptions about the way people may respond to Census questions.

This publication presents estimates of the prevalence of homelessness, and the characteristics and living arrangements of those likely to be homeless, on Census night 2011 and compares those estimates to 2006 and 2001. Estimates are also provided for people whose living arrangements are close to the statistical boundary of homelessness, but who are not classified as homeless.

For some groups of people, Census variables provide limited opportunity to estimate those likely to be homeless. Three key groups are: homeless youth; homeless people displaced due to domestic and family violence; and homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Notwithstanding the limitations of the Census variables for the analysis of homelessness, the estimates presented in this publication have been compiled on a generally consistent basis so that they can be compared over time to track increases or decreases in homelessness. Any unavoidable inconsistencies in methodology are described and broadly quantified so that users can understand any limitations in comparisons over time.

An overview of the ABS methodology for estimating homelessness from the Census is provided in Appendix 2: Estimation Methodology. For more information, see Information Paper - Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).

The ABS definition of homelessness underpins the methodology used to compile the ABS estimates of homelessness. An overview of the definition is provided in Appendix 1: Definition of Homelessness. Under the ABS definition, a person is homeless if they do not have suitable accommodation alternatives and their current living arrangement:

  • is in a dwelling that is inadequate, or
  • has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable, or
  • does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations.

For more information on the ABS definition of homelessness see Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (cat. no. 4922.0).


KEY RESULTS

The key homelessness estimates from the 2011 Census are:
  • there were 105,237 people enumerated in the Census who are classified as being homeless on Census night (up from 89,728 in 2006);
  • the homeless rate was 49 persons for every 10,000 persons enumerated in the 2011 Census, up 8% from the 45 persons in 2006 but down on the 51 persons in 2001;
  • the homelessness rate rose by 20% or more in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT, with the largest fall being in the Northern Territory down 8%;
  • most of the increase in homelessness between 2006 and 2011 was reflected in people living in severely crowded dwellings, up from 31,531 in 2006 to 41,390 in 2011;
  • the number of people spending Census night in supported accommodation for the homeless in 2011 was 21,258, up from 17,329 in 2006;
  • there were 17,721 homeless people in boarding houses on Census night in 2011, up from 15,460 in 2006;
  • the number of homeless people in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out in 2011 was 6,813, down from 7,247 in 2006;
  • about three quarters of the increase in the homelessness estimate was accounted for by people who were born overseas;
  • there was little change in the total number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were homeless (up 3% to 26,744 in 2011);
  • 60% of homeless people in 2011 were aged under 35 years, and 22% of the increase in homelessness was in the 25 to 34 years age group (up 22% to 19,311 homeless people in 2011);
  • the male homelessness rate fell slightly to 56 males per 10,000 males enumerated in the 2011 Census, while the rate rose slightly for females to 42 per 10,000 females; and
  • among those people who were not classified as being homeless on Census night but were living in some form of marginal housing and may be at risk of homelessness, the number of people living in improvised dwellings fell sharply, down 42% to 4,504 people in 2011, the number of people marginally housed in caravan parks was little changed (at 12,963 people in 2011), while the number of people living in crowded dwellings requiring three extra bedrooms jumped 41% to 60,875 in 2011.

The following table presents the time series of homelessness estimates for the six operational groups for 2001, 2006 and 2011.

1.1 Persons by homeless Operational Groups, 2001, 2006 and 2011

2001
2006
2011
no.
%
no.
%
no.
%

Persons who are in improvised dwellings, tents or sleepers out
8 946
9
7 247
8
6 813
6
Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless
13 420
14
17 329
19
21 258
20
Persons staying temporarily with other households
17 880
19
17 663
20
17 369
17
Persons staying in boarding houses
21 300
22
15 460
17
17 721
17
Persons in other temporary lodging
338
-
500
1
686
1
Persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings
33 430
35
31 531
35
41 390
39
All homeless persons
95 314
100
89 728
100
105 237
100

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)


Severe overcrowding

People living in 'severely' crowded dwellings (i.e. usual residents of dwellings which needed four or more extra bedrooms to accommodate them adequately) have been the largest homeless group in each of the last 3 Censuses. While the number of people in this group fell slightly between 2001 and 2006, it jumped 31% (or 9,857 people) to 41,390 in 2011 and accounted for most of the rise in homelessness. Two thirds of the rise in 'severe' crowding is attributable to a doubling of the number of people in this homelessness group who were born overseas. In 2011 there were 5,915 people in severely crowded dwellings who were born overseas and who had arrived in Australia in 2006 or earlier, similar to the total number of all overseas born people in this homeless group in 2006. However, in 2011 there were an additional 6,265 people born overseas that arrived in Australia after 2006 and were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings on Census night.

People arriving from China, New Zealand, Afghanistan and India accounted for about half the rise in the overseas born estimate for this homelessness group.

Overseas born homeless people in 'severely' crowded dwellings accounted for more than half the rise in homelessness in both the 19 to 24 years age group and in the 25 to 34 years age group.

Supported accommodation

After severe crowding, supported accommodation for the homeless was the largest homeless group in 2011, accounting for 20% of homeless people on Census night. There were 21,258 people in supported accommodation in 2011, up 23% on 2006. While Victoria was still the jurisdiction with the largest number of people in supported accommodation, its share had slipped a little due to stronger rises in both New South Wales and Queensland.

While supported accommodation accounts for 20% of the homeless in 2011, it accounts for 31% of homeless children aged under 12 years, and 28% of youth aged 12 to 18 years. There were slightly more females than males in supported accommodation in 2011, while across all other homeless groups males outnumber females by 39%.

Indigenous people were over represented generally in the 2011 homelessness estimates (25%) and in supported accommodation (15%). However, in supported accommodation the not stated rate for Indigenous status is double that for all homelessness and may mask an even higher proportion of Indigenous people in supported accommodation.

See Appendix 4 for a comparison of ABS Census based estimates of people in supported accommodation and estimates from the new Specialist Homelessness Services Collection conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Boarding houses

There were 17,721 homeless people in boarding houses on Census night in 2011, up 15% on the estimate for 2006 but still well down on the 21,300 estimate for 2001.

The homeless boarding house population is overwhelmingly male (75%), and much older than the rest of the homeless population - 46% of the boarding house homeless population is aged 45 years and over, compared to 22% of the other homeless groups being of that age.

See Appendix 2 on methodology which describes some changes for the boarding house estimates that may account for some of the rise between 2006 and 2011.

Homeless and staying temporarily in other households

The 17,369 homeless people staying as visitors temporarily in other households and who reported no usual address accounted for 17% of the homeless population in 2011, and was down slightly on the estimate for 2006. This group includes homeless people staying as visitors with friends and relatives and people who were homeless in 'visitor only' households where none of the persons present on Census night usually lived in that dwelling.

This visitor homeless group reflects the average male / female ratio of all homeless people in 2011 (56% to 44%), and while younger than the boarding house population is older than either the supported accommodation or severely crowded groups (35% of this homeless group were aged over 45 years and older).

As noted in the introduction, some groups, in particular youth, those escaping domestic and family violence and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are likely to be underestimated in this category of homelessness because, despite their homelessness, a usual address may be reported for them on Census night and therefore they cannot be distinguished from people who were visitors on Census night and who were not homeless.

Improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out

There were 6,813 homeless people in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out in 2011, down 6% on 2006. Males are over represented in this homeless group (68%) as are Indigenous Australians (25%).

States and Territories

In 2011, there were similar rates of homelessness in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland (ranging from 41 to 46 homeless persons per 10,000 persons), while South Australia and Tasmania had the lowest rates (38 and 32 homeless persons per 10,000 persons). While the Northern Territory had the highest rate of homelessness in Australia in 2011 (731 persons homeless per 10,000 persons), this was an improvement on the homelessness rate in 2006 of 792.

1.2 Rate of homeless persons per 10,000 of the population, by State and Territory of usual residence - 2001, 2006 and 2011

States and Territories
2001
2006
2011

New South Wales
36.4
33.9
40.8
Victoria
38.9
35.3
42.6
Queensland
54.8
48.3
45.8
South Australia
39.8
37.0
37.5
Western Australia
53.6
42.3
42.8
Tasmania
27.5
24.0
31.9
Northern Territory
904.4
791.7
730.7
Australian Capital Territory
30.4
29.3
50.0
Australia
50.8
45.2
48.9



In the Northern Territory, 85% of the homeless were in 'severely' crowded dwellings in 2011. Severe crowding in the other states and territories ranged between 12% in Tasmania to 43% in Western Australia. Compared to other states and territories, the Northern Territory also had a high rate of homeless persons in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out at 40 per 10,000 persons. The next highest rates were in Western Australia and Queensland (each 4 per 10,000 persons).

The rates of people in supported accommodation for the homeless were highest in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory (31 and 27 persons respectively per 10,000 of their populations). The rates in supported accommodation were lower in the other jurisdictions, ranging from 4 persons per 10,000 in WA to 15 in Victoria.

Youth

Most of the homeless youth aged 12-18 years in 2011 were in 'severely' crowded dwellings (56%) or in supported accommodation for the homeless (28%). While 8% of homeless people aged 12-18 years were staying temporarily with other households, this proportion increases to 14% for youth aged 19-24 years.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples made up 2.5% of the Australian population in 2011. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians accounted for 25% of all persons who were homeless on Census night in 2011 (26,744). Of those who were classified as homeless, 75% were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings (the same proportion as in 2006), 12% were in supported accommodation for the homeless and 6% were in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out. For non-Indigenous homeless persons, 30% were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings, 20% were in supported accommodation, and 7% were in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out.

The estimate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were homeless on Census night is likely to be an underestimate, particularly for those staying temporarily with other households, reflecting both a relatively large underenumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons in the Census and because for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians a usual address may be reported that is associated with a 'place' rather than with a home or dwelling (see Explanatory Notes for more information).

Marginally housed and at risk of homelessness

People who were not classified as being homeless on Census night but were living in some form of marginal housing and may be at risk of homelessness are people whose living arrangements are close to the statistical boundary of homelessness. The number of people marginally housed and living in improvised dwellings fell sharply, down 42% to 4,504 people in 2011, the number of people marginally housed in caravan parks was little changed (at 12,963 people in 2011), while the number of people living in crowded dwellings requiring three extra bedrooms jumped 41% to 60,875 in 2011.

As in 2006, for the marginally housed population living in other crowded dwellings the rate in 2011 was highest in the Northern Territory with 244 per 10,000 persons, followed by New South Wales (32) and Victoria (25).

1.3 Persons living in other crowded dwellings, Rate per 10,000 of the population - 2011


New South Wales
32.0
Victoria
25.4
Queensland
24.8
South Australia
18.5
Western Australia
23.2
Tasmania
12.0
Northern Territory
243.6
Australian Capital Territory
13.5
Australia
28.3




REFERENCES

Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (2008) The Road Home. A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness, FaHCSIA, Canberra.

Department of Human Services Victoria (2002) Victorian Homelessness Strategy: Action Plan and Strategic Framework, Victoria, Melbourne.


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