PERSONS IN IMPROVISED DWELLINGS, TENTS, SLEEPERS OUT
Estimating the homeless operational group 'Persons in improvised dwellings, tents, sleeper out' commences by first considering the group of Australian residents who were enumerated in the Census in an 'improvised dwelling, tent, sleepers out' and who reported either being at home on Census night or having 'no usual address'.
The Census does not directly collect any data on the adequacy of the dwelling element of the ABS definition of homelessness, and it assumed that 'improvised dwelling...' category is a reasonable proxy, although both field and processing errors may overstate this group.
Nor does the Census currently directly collect information about accommodation alternatives and proxy measures are needed to identify indicators of accommodation alternatives.
However, neither the usual address question nor the dwelling category recorded by Census collectors was designed to measure homelessness (see Chapter 4 for information about the purpose of the usual address question). Analysis of the reported characteristics of persons enumerated in improvised dwellings, tents, sleepers out, shows that many were unlikely to have been homelessness.
There are a range of reasons why people may be in a dwelling classified as improvised and which is reported as their usual address but who, however, are not likely to be homeless. The notes recorded by the Census collectors point to a likely explanation. In the 2006 Census, the notes show that some dwellings classified as improvised dwellings were new homes being progressively occupied, or reflect large numbers of construction staff living in site sheds ('improvised dwellings') as they build new suburbs, or highways and similar construction tasks. Some of the records classified as improvised dwellings appear to relate to owner builders living in a shed or similar dwelling while building their home on their own property.
The ABS rules to classify as homeless people enumerated in improvised dwellings on Census night are presented in the table below. The rules aim to avoid misclassification of the majority of the construction workers or owner builders who would have accommodation alternatives. Failure to do so will result in homelessness estimates being driven by building booms (when homelessness will appear to rise) and down-turns (when it will appear to fall) and present an odd occupational grouping of the homeless. During the Census in 2006 there was a boom in construction but between the 2006 and 2011 the global financial crisis occurred and may have reduced the levels of both construction workers accommodated away from home and owner builders living on their own property and building a home.
To approximate the concept of accommodation alternatives applied to this group, variables such as tenure, income, rent and mortgage payments are used.
Imputation occurs for an improvised dwelling which may have been occupied on Census night and about which the collector was not 'absolutely certain was unoccupied' but for which no contact could be made. These imputed people may not exist, or may be counted elsewhere at their primary residence. Some of the imputations will be for improvised dwellings which may be occupied only on a semi-permanent basis such as a shed on a block where a more substantial dwelling is being built or a shack occupied periodically on weekends or while the owner of the land is on holiday. No imputation is undertaken for rough sleepers.
In summary, in 2006 there were about 12,000 people enumerated in improvised dwellings as either being at home or with no usual address, from which about two thirds were classified as not being homeless based on the rules for estimating homelessness. There were 659 records imputed in improvised dwellings as either being at home or with no usual address where there was no corroborating information that the dwelling was occupied on Census night, but also no strong evidence that it was not occupied on Census night. And a further 512 imputed records where no form was collected but a count of the numbers of people in the improvised dwellings was obtained by the collector from a third party. Together these imputed records account for more about 10% of those enumerated on forms in these dwellings. This imputation rate is more than double that of the national average rate of imputation, and suggests that the nature of these dwellings leads to over imputation.
The rules applied to estimate the homeless population from the improvised dwelling count require the use of tenure, rent and mortgage payments, and labour force status, to eliminate the mobile construction workers, hobby farmers, owner builders etc. Where these items are 'not stated' people are assumed to be homeless. However, imputed records have no such information. It is likely that even if the imputed records related to people who should have been enumerated in such dwellings, two thirds would be expected to be removed from the homelessness estimates if we had their full information. However, the high imputation rates suggests that many of these records reflect over imputation.
While it is possible that a few of the imputed records do relate to a person who was homeless on Census night, we know neither their characteristics nor their location. Arbitrarily including a few imputed records adds nothing to the analysis or understanding of this homeless population and potentially skews the resulting distributions of characteristics.
For more information on analysis of this group see the ABS publications: Discussion Paper: Methodological Review of Counting the Homeless, 2006 (cat. no. 2050.0.55.001) and Position Paper - ABS Review of Counting the Homeless Methodology, August 2011 (cat. no. 2050.0.55.002).
Rules for estimating Persons in improvised dwellings, tents, sleepers out
The following table presents the rules that are applied to classify persons who were most likely to be homeless on Census night and staying in improvised dwellings, tents and sleepers out. The rules start with the broad Census dwelling category of 'improvised dwellings, tents, sleepers out' and refines the category to avoid misclassifying as homeless those groups of people who were unlikely to be homeless on Census night.