4735.0 - Discussion Paper: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Perspectives on Homelessness, 2013  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/08/2013  First Issue
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The ABS statistical definition of homelessness has been constructed from a conceptual framework centred around three key elements of home: adequacy of dwelling; security of tenure of dwelling; and control of, and access to space for social relations. These elements were used in the engagement when discussing concepts of home for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Most responses to questions concerning the meaning of home could generally be related to one or more of the following concepts:

  • Home as more than a shelter: Often talked about as a medium that should be a place of safety and security, and for young people a place of autonomy and freedom.
  • Home is family and/or community: Includes the notion of family as home. Family includes immediate family, and extended kinship ties.
  • Connection to country: Includes concepts of ancestral ties to landscape. Refers to land that people may or may not currently reside on.

Home as more than a shelter

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who spoke about home, indicated their perception that it was more than just a roof over head, and noted important factors that made a place a home which were consistent with the ABS statistical definition.

Particularly in remote NSW and in Qld, home was described as a place that provides a physical structure, with a bed to sleep in, adequate facilities, and is safe. Young people in particular noted that home should be a place that provides safety and freedom of choice. For people in precarious housing situations, the importance of having secure tenure to stay for as long as needed was highlighted as fundamental to them feeling at home.

For further consideration:

1. What elements of safety should be considered when measuring or researching homelessness?

Home is family and/or community

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia noted the importance of family in connection to home. Staying near family provides a connection to culture and ensures having access to resources when needed. Home was spoken about as a family unit where both social and financial support is provided. It was reported as ideally being a sanctuary and a facility for housing and nurturing children and grandchildren.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the NT who described being mobile and shifting from place to place visiting family on their ancestral lands, and those living across multiple dwellings, considered home to be where family is located. People largely reported feeling at home when staying away from their usual place of residence if they are with family.

In communities where participants were related and family lineage was established and respected, home was described as community. This was particularly evident in urban NSW, where most people spoken to noted that home was the community, irrespective of place of usual residence. It was also reported that home for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people consisted of dwellings that were inherited through family succession, despite families currently living elsewhere.

Further consultation will support understanding the relationship between feeling 'at home' and the concept of 'usual residence' as implemented in the Census of Population and Housing and household surveys.

For further consideration:

2. Should family connection be more clearly considered when measuring or researching homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

3. What features of social and community life are important in relation to measuring or understanding homelessness?

Connection to country

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often reported that home is considered to be more than just a dwelling. Home was understood through the connection an individual or group has to country and their ties to the spirituality of the land through the connection a person has with their ancestry. This was reported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia, but particularly in the NT.

Generally, younger people were less likely to report connection to country as a key characteristic of the concept of home, with young people in remote NSW and Qld emphasising concepts such as family and community as being fundamental to their understanding of home.

For further consideration:

4. Should connection to country be considered when measuring or researching homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

5. To what extent does the significance of connection to country vary across different population groups?