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 statistical definition of homelessness is informed by an understanding of homelessness as 'home'lessness, not roof-lessness.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples perceptions of homelessness are diverse, and whilst some relate their perception of homelessness to broader concepts of home as discussed above, and not roof-lessness, other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people perceived being homeless as not having a shelter or dwelling. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, when asked to discuss stories of homelessness, broadly perceived homelessness as:

  • House-lessness: Inability to obtain shelter.
  • Family disconnection: Includes concept of 'choice' in being homeless.
  • Having a dwelling, but not on country or in community: Separation of dwelling from concept of home.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who spoke about home as shelter mostly reported homelessness as having no dwelling that they considered their own. Being house-less was described by some people as a largely invisible problem because of family and cultural responsibilities and expectations to provide shelter for family members needing a place to stay.

People who had experienced or witnessed house-lessness reported the following situations as occurring in their community:
  • Sleeping rough: On the street or in other public places, squatting, or being admitted into hospital for a place to sleep.
  • Crowded dwellings: Many people, often family members, in a house.
  • Couch surfing: People with no fixed address staying temporarily with other households.

Several Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported crowding in houses in their community. People living in these houses were sometimes considered to be house-less but not necessarily homeless, although this was dependent on the occupant's relationships to the community.

Several Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported having visitors, often transient family members, and indicated that they would encourage family to make themselves at home. Some expressed that refusing visitors is culturally inappropriate. In the NT and urban NSW, many people reported that they would never be without a place to stay because home is family.

Having control of and access to space for social relations is one of the conceptual elements used to determine if a person is considered homeless. Included in perceptions of crowding was the reported need for space when visitors were staying, particularly if it was unknown how long visitors might stay for.

For further consideration:

6. How should family and cultural responsibilites to provide accommodation be considered when measuring or researching homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

Family disconnection

In communities where cultural ties and family kinship were strong, homelessness was reported as family disconnection. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the NT, NSW and Qld who reported family as home noted that homelessness was experienced by people who have no family or have become disconnected from family.

Having a dwelling, but not on country, or in community

Some older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people felt that if you were living in a dwelling on country or in community then there was no such concept as being homeless, largely because of family responsibility and cultural shared practices.

A number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly those from the NT and urban NSW noted home as connection to country or community, therefore if their usual dwelling was not located on country or in their community, they considered themselves to be homeless.

In the NT, it was reported by some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that not everyone can go back to country or community, for example some go into town and cannot afford to get home, or some people may not be welcomed back. These people were considered to be homeless, despite potentially having access to a dwelling.

For further consideration:

7. How important is it to consider whether a dwelling is 'on country' or 'in community' when measuring or researching homelessness?