4922.0 - Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/09/2012  First Issue
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Chamberlain and MacKenzie's "cultural definition" identifies assumed shared community standards about the minimum housing that people have the right to expect, in order to live according to the conventions and expectations of a particular culture. The definition identifies those groups that fall below the minimum community standard.

The minimum community standard is a small rental flat - with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and an element of security of tenure - because that is the minimum that most people achieve in the private rental market. However, the minimum is significantly below the culturally desired option of an owner-occupied house.

While it is true that the concepts of 'housed' and 'homeless' constitute a continuum of circumstances, there are three situations that fall below the community standard. This leads to the identification of 'primary', 'secondary' and 'tertiary' homelessness and the 'marginally housed'. The model is shown in Figure 1.1 (Chamberlain and MacKenzie, 1992, p.291).

Diagram: Cultural definition

Primary homelessness accords with the common sense assumption that homelessness is the same as 'rooflessness'. It includes all people without conventional accommodation, such as people living on the streets, sleeping in parks, squatting in derelict buildings, or using cars or railway carriages for temporary shelter. Primary homelessness is operationalised using the census category 'improvised homes, tents and sleepers out'.

Secondary homelessness includes people who move frequently from one form of temporary shelter to another. On Census night, it includes all people staying in emergency or transitional accommodation provided under the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP). The starting point for identifying this group is the Census category 'hostels for the homeless, night shelters and refuges'. Secondary homelessness also includes people residing temporarily with other households because they have no accommodation of their own. They report 'no usual address' on their census form. Secondary homelessness also includes people staying in boarding houses on a short-term basis, operationally defined as 12 weeks or less.

Tertiary homelessness refers to people who live in boarding houses on a medium to long-term basis, operationally defined as 13 weeks or longer. Residents of private boarding houses do not have separate bedrooms and living rooms; they do not have kitchen and bathroom facilities of their own; their accommodation is not self-contained; and they do not have security of tenure provided by a lease. They are homeless because their accommodation does not have the characteristics identified in the minimum community standard.


The European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS) defined homelessness as being without a ‘home’. Having a ‘home’ can be understood as: having an adequate dwelling (or space) over which a person and his/her family can exercise exclusive possession (physical domain); being able to maintain privacy and enjoy relations (social domain) and having a legal title to occupation (legal domain).

ETHOS classifies homelessness people into four broad conceptual categories:
  • rooflessness: without a shelter of any kind, sleeping rough
  • houselessness: with a place to sleep but temporary in institutions or shelter
  • living in insecure housing: threatened with severe exclusion due to insecure tenancies, eviction, domestic violence
  • living in inadequate housing: in caravans on illegal campsites, in unfit housing, in extreme overcrowding

These 4 conceptual categories are divided into 13 operational categories to which are mapped 24 living situations as shown below.

Diagram: ETHOS definition


Statistics NZ used the ETHOS as the basis for their definition of homelessness, with changes to accommodate the NZ environment and conceptual requirements. The definition is based on three domains as follows:
  • The social domain is being able to pursue normal social relations, have a personal (household) living space, maintain privacy and have safe accommodation.
  • The legal domain covers having exclusive possession, security of occupation or tenure.
  • The physical domain is the structural aspect of housing and means having habitable housing.

The intersection of those three domains with housing led Statistics NZ to define homelessness as living situations where people with no other options to acquire safe and secure housing: are without shelter, in temporary accommodation, sharing accommodation with a household or living in uninhabitable housing.

Under the NZ definition people who have 'options to acquire safe and secure private accommodation' are not defined as homeless. This overarching consideration is a corollary for the ABS definition incorporation of accommodation alternatives.

Some of the 'inadequate' and 'insecure' sections of ETHOS are not included because individuals in them are not currently homeless but rather at risk of becoming homeless. These cover the same exclusions for the ABS definition (i.e., ETHOS operational categories 5, 6, and 7). In addition the NZ definition also excludes ETHOS operational categories 9 (threat of eviction) and 10 (living under threat of violence) which are to be covered by the ABS conceptual definition.


When a person is homeless
      (1) For the purposes of this Act, a person is homeless if, and only if, he or she has inadequate access to safe and secure housing.

Inadequate access to safe and secure housing
      (2) For the purposes of this Act, a person is taken to have inadequate access to safe and secure housing if the only housing to which the person has access:
          a. damages, or is likely to damage, the person's health; or
          b. threatens the person's safety; or
          c. marginalises the person through failing to provide access to:
          i. adequate personal amenities; or
          ii. the economic and social supports that a home normally affords; or
          d. places the person in circumstances which threaten or adversely affect the adequacy, safety, security and affordability of that housing.

Person living in SAAP accommodation
      (3) For the purposes of this Act, a person is taken to have inadequate access to safe and secure housing if:
          a. the person is living in accommodation provided under SAAP; and
          b. the assessment of the person's eligibility for that accommodation was based on the application of subsection (1) or (2) (ignoring the effect of this subsection).

Generality of subsection (1)
      (4) Subsections (2) and (3) do not limit the generality of subsection (1).


3 Object of Act

The object of this Act is to increase recognition and awareness of persons who are, or are at risk of, experiencing homelessness.

4 Definitions

In this Act:
      Homelessness: see section 5.
      Mainstream services means general services provided by government or non-government agencies that are available to the general population, such as Centrelink, public and community housing, aged care and community health centres.
      Specialist homelessness services includes services to assist persons who are, or are at risk of, sleeping rough or living in an improvised dwelling.

5 Meaning of homelessness

For the purposes of this Act, a person is experiencing homelessness if:
      (a) the person is sleeping rough or living in an improvised dwelling; or
      (b) either:
          (i) the person is temporarily living with friends or relatives and has no other usual address; or
          (ii) the person is living in accommodation provided by a specialist homelessness service; or
      (c) the person is living in a boarding house, caravan park, hostel, refuge, shelter or similar accommodation, whether on a short-term or long-term basis, in respect of which the person has no secure lease and the person is not living in that accommodation by choice