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As in previous Censuses, early networking with organisations was an important component of the strategy. Census Management Units (CMUs) in each state and territory began networking up to one year before the Census to assist in operational planning. The benefits of this included: early identification of locations where people sleeping rough were likely to be found; the refinement of estimates of numbers of rough sleepers in particular areas; access to a valuable pool of knowledgeable staff and potential Collectors; and facilitation of the spread of ‘word of mouth’ promotion of the Census throughout the homeless population.
DURING THE CENSUS OPERATION
CMUs worked closely with service and accommodation providers to identify locations of people experiencing homelessness and to employ staff from these organisations, where possible, to assist with the homeless count. Many people who had, or were currently experiencing homelessness, were recruited to assist with the homeless count. Over twice as many specialist field staff were employed to conduct the homeless count in 2011 than in 2006 (over 550 staff in 2011 compared with over 250 in 2006).
A major component of implementing the strategy was the street count - ensuring that Census forms were completed for people experiencing homelessness who were sleeping rough and who might otherwise be missed by the mainstream enumeration.
CMUs had the flexibility to use either a mainstream Household Form (HHF) to enumerate rough sleepers, or the Special Short Form (SSF). The HHF enables more data, such as family structure, to be collected. However, the SSF takes less time to complete for each person experiencing homelessness. Most states and territories chose to use only the SSF to count rough sleepers. However, the Northern Australia CMU used the HHF, allowing capture of more comprehensive data for groups of people sleeping rough (such as the Darwin 'long-grassers'). This CMU also employed people experiencing homelessness to assist with the rough sleeper count across the region.
There were other differences in the way that the states and territories conducted the street count. For example, the New South Wales CMU employed a large team of Special Collectors who, using information received from service providers, identified locations and hot spots where rough sleepers were known to be. These collectors went out to these locations over several days, and also visited soup kitchens, hostels and known services for the homeless to get a complete count. The Victorian CMU engaged service provider staff as Special Collectors who, over the period of a week, enumerated people experiencing homelessness as they came in touch with their services. Other CMUs used combinations of these methods. The difference in methodology can partly be explained by the difference in ease of access to state government information on service providers, and the varying capacity of staff working for service providers to work for the Census.
The 2011 Census Homeless Communication Plan aimed to raise awareness and understanding of the Census and its importance among government agencies, community groups and service providers that work with people affected by homelessness, to help achieve as high as possible enumeration of this group.
While an accurate Census means effectively counting homeless people, the extent to which homeless people were counted in the Census rested largely with Census collection staff. As a result, and due to complexities involved in targeting communication to this population group, and difficulties faced by this group accessing mainstream media, Census information and messages were primarily delivered via third parties, and through editorial placement in homeless-specific media and online channels such as online homeless forums.
Printed material was also produced for distribution to service providers letting them know how they could assist in the Census count. Special materials were designed to promote the ‘None’ option for the usual residence question.
Activities were also targeted towards population groups such as couch surfers (people with no permanent home who were staying temporarily with friends or relatives) and towards those staying in non-traditional homeless accommodation such as hotels and motels.
Event participation and sponsorship was also employed, including distribution of Census branded materials via accommodation services and catering services. Extensive local engagement work was undertaken by Census Management Units with local homeless service providers.
Green Sticker strategy and address lists
The ABS engaged with providers of supported accommodation for the homeless to allow people staying in these dwellings on Census night to be counted confidentially, that is, that they did not need to identify to the Census collector that they were homeless. Two strategies were employed: 'Green Stickers'; and the address list strategy.
'Green Stickers' were sent to organisations, Specialist Homeless Service (SHS) providers and umbrella groups to be used on Census forms that were completed in crisis accommodation and refuges. This ensured that the householders could minimise contact with the local Census Collector, and avoid identifying that they were staying in a refuge or other accommodation for the homeless. A Green Sticker was placed on the Census form, which was mailed directly to the Census Data Processing Centre (DPC). The form was then processed confidentially and securely, and the dwelling was flagged in the data as providing supported accommodation for the homeless. A message was sent to the Collector that the form had been returned by post and not to return to the dwelling to collect it.
The other strategy was to obtain lists of the known addresses where supported accommodation for the homeless was provided on Census night. These lists were obtained from government bodies, individual SHS providers, and umbrella organisations. This information was used to correctly classify the accommodation within the DPC, bypassing the need for field staff to identify the dwelling as accommodation for the homeless.
Given the confidential nature of these lists, the ABS took steps to ensure the addresses were kept secure and confidential, by creating a password-protected electronic deposit box to provide the addresses. Only authorised staff at the DPC were permitted to access these lists.
Overall the 2011 Census HES was very successful. However, there are opportunities to make further improvements to the strategy for the next Census in 2016.
Critical to the success of the HES is continued engagement with service providers in the sector across Australia to ensure positive support for future Census enumeration. This includes the recruitment of those who work with homeless people - as well as those who have been homeless themselves - to assist with the street counts, publicity, green sticker and address list components of the HES.
Developing a national strategy that is implemented consistently, but which has the flexibility required to cater for different local arrangements, will be a continued challenge. Every jurisdiction is different, and the HES will need to be flexible enough to meet the needs of local areas, as well as prescriptive enough to ensure national consistency, coverage and comparability.
The nature of housing support services for people who are homeless is continually changing. The ABS will ensure that in the lead up to the next Census, procedures are reviewed to ensure that people in new forms of supported accommodation are correctly identified through the Census. With advice from service providers, the ABS will develop ways to ensure that clients who are accommodated using vouchers or 'brokerage' in hotels and caravan parks are identified correctly during Census enumeration as people in supported accommodation for the homeless. In addition, the ABS will look at ways to improve the identification of boarding houses - both those that are registered and those that are not.
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