2049.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016 Quality Declaration 
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 14/03/2018   
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The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) definition of homelessness is informed by an understanding of homelessness as 'home'lessness, not rooflessness. It emphasises the core elements of 'home' in Anglo American and European interpretations of the meaning of home as identified in research evidence (Mallett, 2004). These elements may include a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety and the ability to control living space. Homelessness is therefore a lack of one or more of the elements that represent 'home'.

In brief, the ABS statistical definition is that:

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;
  • 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 definition has been constructed from a conceptual framework centred around the following elements:
  • Adequacy of the dwelling;
  • Security of tenure in the dwelling; and
  • Control of, and access to space for social relations.

The elements are explained in more detail in the ABS Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (cat. no. 4922.0).

People must lack one or more of these elements to be defined as homeless. However, people who lack one or more of these elements are not necessarily classified as homeless. While homelessness is not a choice, some people may chose to live in situations that might parallel the living situations of people who are homeless. For example, people may be living in a shed while building a home on their own property, or on holiday travelling and staying with friends. These people have choice because they have the capacity to access other accommodation that is safe, adequate and provides for social relations. Having access to accommodation alternatives is contingent on having the financial, physical, psychological and personal means to access these alternatives (see the ABS Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (cat. no. 4922.0)).

The ABS definition of homelessness is used to produce statistics on homelessness from a range of ABS collections. This includes prevalence estimates of homelessness from the five-yearly Census of Population and Housing, and from household surveys such as the General Social Survey, Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, Personal Safety Survey, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, and other surveys, as appropriate.

This definition can also be used by other organisations to collect and output their statistics in line with the ABS definition and ABS statistical outputs.

More information on the development of an ABS definition can be found in the 'Factsheet: Homelessness - in concept and in some measurement contexts', available from the 'Summary' tab of the Information Paper – A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0).


The Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (cat. no. 4922.0) outlines which elements of the statistical definition are used in determining homeless living situations in each of the homeless operational groups.

The hierarchy below briefly outlines which elements of the definition are employed to determine the group as being homeless.

Image:  How does the heirachy relate to output categories


Mallett, S (2004) 'Understanding Home: A Critical Review of the Literature', The Sociological Review, 52 (1), 62-89.