In September 2012, after a significant period of consultation, the ABS released a statistical definition of homelessness. The ABS Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0) provides the context for the development of the definition, as well as describing elements of the statistical definition of homelessness in detail.
Under the ABS definition, when a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives they are considered homeless if 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.
The ABS definition of homelessness has been developed for application to the general population in Australia.
A number of data developments have sought to build the evidence base for developing policy to address and monitor homelessness, including for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These include, but are not limited to:
- The first official homelessness estimates based on a methodology for operationalising the ABS statistical definition of homelessness. For more information, see Information Paper - Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing, 2012 (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001). The estimates were derived from the 2001, 2006 and 2011 Censuses and were published in Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011 (cat. no. 2049.0);
- The establishment of the Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) collection compiled by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) from data on the clients of specialist homelessness agencies. The collection includes information on 'support periods' (including previous periods of homelessness) by demographic characteristics such as age, education and employment status;
- The commissioning of the project Journeys Home: A Longitudinal Study of the Factors Affecting Housing Stability, funded by the Department of Social Services (DSS) and conducted by the Melbourne Institute. The project tracks a national sample of individuals exposed to high levels of housing insecurity to assist in understanding the various factors associated with homelessness and housing stability; and
- The Longitudinal Survey of Reconnect Clients, run by DSS to evaluate the role of the Reconnect program in building community capacity for early intervention into youth homelessness.
The homeless rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 487.9 persons for every 10,000 persons enumerated in the 2011 Census, compared with the non-Indigenous rate of 35.2 persons per 10,000 of the population. ABS homelessness estimates are comprised of persons identified across six discrete categories of homelessness, referred to as operational groups (see Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011
cat. no. 2049.0 for more information). Table 1 shows that of the operational groups, the largest over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons occurred in the group 'Persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings' (365.9 out of every 10,000 persons). In comparison, only 10.4 out of every 10,000 non-Indigenous persons were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings.
Table 1 – Number of homeless persons by homeless operational group, by Indigenous status, Australia, 2011(a)(b)(c)(d)(e)
Aboriginal and Torres
|Homeless operational group |
|Persons who are in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out |
|Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless(f) |
|Persons staying temporarily with other households(g) |
|Persons staying in boarding houses |
|Persons in other temporary lodging |
|Persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings(h) |
|Total homeless |
|(a) Source: Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011 (cat. no. 2049.0). |
|(b) Estimates in this table have been randomly adjusted to avoid the release of confidential information. |
|(c) The estimates presented in this information paper exclude 24 duplicate records included in the initial release of the 2011 homelessness estimates. |
|(d) Categories are mutually exclusive, therefore persons will only appear in one category. |
|(e) Rate is the number of persons per 10,000 of the indicated population (excluding usual residents of external territories, at sea, migratory and offshore regions). |
|(f) Includes those in Specialist Homeless Services. |
|(g) Includes 'visitor only' households where all persons report having no usual address. Some people who were homeless are likely to be underestimated in this category. |
|(h) Includes usual residents in dwellings needing 4 or more extra bedrooms under the Canadian National Occupancy Standard. See Explanatory Notes in Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011 (cat. no. 2049.0) for more information. |
While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented in estimates of homelessness, there are likely to be additional aspects to homelessness from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective that the definition does not adequately capture.
In recognition of the differences in understanding concepts of home and homelessness, the ABS undertook community engagement activities to identify perspectives of home and homelessness within an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context. Findings were published in the Discussion Paper: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Perspectives on Homelessness
, 2013 (cat. no. 4735.0). Further engagement was then undertaken to better inform homelessness measurement and analysis by considering this feedback in the context of the current ABS statistical definition of homelessness.
In this paper, concepts of home and homelessness within an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context that emerged from the engagement process are discussed. Findings are mapped to the ABS statistical definition for the purpose of informing the interpretation of current measures of homelessness. Implications for future homelessness measurement among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are then considered.