FACTSHEET: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Homelessness
The ABS definition of homelessness has been developed for application to the general population in Australia. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented in the measures of homelessness developed with this definition, there are likely to be additional aspects to homelessness from an Indigenous perspective that the definition does not currently adequately capture.
In recognition of the differences in understanding of the concepts of home and homelessness in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian context, the ABS is undertaking further research about how the ABS statistical definition of homelessness may be understood in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian context. This work will also inform both Census enumeration and subsequent estimation of homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The ABS will also work to develop a culturally appropriate module on previous experiences of homelessness suitable for inclusion in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey which can be compared to estimates from the total population from the 2014 General Social Survey.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have been under enumerated in the Census and estimates of homeless based on Census data will be an underestimation. In the 2011 Census, the underenumeration of Indigenous Australians was 17.2%. Some of those who were under-enumerated may have been homeless at the time of the Census.
Underestimation of homeless among those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were enumerated in the Census may occur as, for some Indigenous people, 'incorrect' information regarding 'usual residence' may have provided which masks their homelessness.
It is debated in the literature whether the concept of 'no usual address' is appropriate for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Morphy (2007) discusses the problems in defining a 'usual resident' and 'visitor' in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian context, as the distinction between 'my country / not my country' is more salient than the distinction between 'resident / visitor'. This issue becomes particularly problematic for people who are highly mobile. Chamberlain and MacKenzie (2008) also discuss the relevance of 'no usual address' to the Indigenous population, as the 'usual address' question is approached with a different cultural frame of reference. They note that it is not culturally appropriate to record 'no usual address' on Census night because 'home' is understood in a different way, particularly when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are staying with their extended family. Due to the different cultural frame of reference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is widely assumed that the western concept of 'no usual address' is under-reported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. This issue will impact on Census based estimates of homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons enumerated in the Census who are classified as being in the categories for 'improvised dwellings, tents, sleepers out', or temporarily visiting friends or relatives while homeless.
As part of the development for Census 2016, the ABS will consider how they can improve the identification of homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the Census but recognise the need to use other data sources to gain a more complete picture of homelessness.
For more information on the definition of homelessness or the methodology for estimating homelessness from the Census see Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (cat. no. 4922.0) and Information Paper: Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).