4922.0 - Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/09/2012  First Issue
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All  
Contents >> Introduction >> Introduction


Homelessness is not just the result of too few houses - its causes are many and varied. Domestic violence, a shortage of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse all contribute to the level of homelessness in Australia (FaHCSIA, 2008a). Homelessness is not a choice.

For some people, homelessness is an isolated event - it happens once and for a short time. For others, a small minority, homelessness is part of a chaotic and uncertain life of poverty and disadvantage. These people tend to cycle in and out of homelessness and when they do find housing, it tends to be short term (FaHCSIA, 2008a).

People who are homeless are among the most marginalised people in Australia. Homelessness is one of the most potent examples of disadvantage in the community, and one of the most important markers of social exclusion (Department of Human Services Victoria, 2002). To have a socially inclusive Australia, all Australians need to have the capabilities, opportunities, responsibilities and resources to learn, work, engage and have a say (Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2012). Homelessness freezes people out of opportunities that most Australians enjoy (FaHCSIA, 2008b).

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) General Social Survey 2010 identified that those people who had experienced homelessness at some time in the previous 10 years were much more likely to be socially excluded than those people who had never been homeless. Overall, people who had experienced homelessness were:

  • more likely to have lower levels of educational attainment;
  • more likely to have a disability or long-term health condition;
  • more than four times as likely to report that they had a disability type or restriction which was psychological;
  • nearly three times as likely to report having been a victim of violence in the previous 12 months;
  • more likely to live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods;
  • nearly five times as likely to report multiple types of cash flow problems such as being unable to pay bills on time, and ten times as likely to have gone without meals because they could not afford them;
  • much more likely to be unemployed; and
  • twice as likely to be supported by government pensions or allowances (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012)

Homelessness may be the cause, or the result of disadvantage and social exclusion. And disadvantage and social exclusion may persist even after a person is no longer homeless.

Effectively targeting policies and services, monitoring progress and understanding outcomes for those who are or have been homeless, requires transparent, consistent and relatable statistics. However, people who are homeless are among the hardest population to collect statistics from. The ABS has developed a program of social statistics on homelessness that includes, but is not limited to, the development of prevalence measures from the five yearly Census of Population and Housing and through longitudinal linkage to report on outcome of and pathways into homelessness, reporting previous experiences of homelessness through household surveys such as the General Social Survey, and the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers; and experiences of homelessness for people who leave a violent partner through the Personal Safety Survey.

Comparable quality statistics, over time and across data sources, require a clear conceptual framework and definition to underpin the operationalisation of that definition in multiple collections, including fine tuning those datasets for that purpose.

This Information Paper presents the Australian Bureau of Statistics statistical definition of homelessness. The definition was developed in consultation with the ABS' Homelessness Statistics Reference Group. Future ABS surveys will adopt this definition. However, not all dimensions of the definition can be operationalised in all data collections. The ABS will publish an Information Paper: Guide to Homelessness Statistics (cat. no. 4923.0) in November 2012 to assist users with analysing the multiple data sources available to obtain a more complete picture of homelessness. The guide will outline which parts of the homeless definition ABS collections can, or cannot capture.

The ABS definition of homelessness has been developed for application to the general population in Australia. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented in the measures of homelessness developed with this definition, there are likely to be additional aspects to homelessness from an Indigenous perspective that the definition does not currently adequately capture. The ABS will consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on culturally appropriate conceptualisations of homelessness and on the options for measurement in regard to ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander surveys and in analysing the Census data.

Because of the complexity of homelessness from a social policy and service delivery perspective, there are a wide range of views on what constitutes homelessness. While the ABS has benefited from expert advice, there are areas where it was not possible to obtain agreement among all experts. In these circumstances, the ABS has balanced the views of different experts and decided, from a statistical perspective, what the appropriate treatment of these circumstances should be. It acknowledges that there will continue to be differences of view, and in producing statistics on homelessness, the ABS will be intending to present the information in a way that alternative views of homelessness can be constructed to suit particular purposes.

Previous PageNext Page