2049.0.55.001 - Information Paper - Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing, 2012  
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Contents >> Methodology Used to Calculate Homeless Estimates >> Persons living in severely crowded dwellings


The homeless operational group 'Persons living in severely crowded dwellings' is operationalised as those people who were enumerated in a private dwelling that they were usual residents of and, according to the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS), the dwelling requires four or more extra bedrooms to accommodate them.

The concept of crowding is based upon a comparison of the number of bedrooms in a dwelling with a series of household demographics such as the number of usual residents, their relationship to one another, their age and their sex.

There is no single standard or measure for housing utilisation, however the CNOS is widely used internationally and the ABS uses it for its measures of crowding for other purposes. It is a suitable standard for use with Census data because all of the required variables for its calculation are available from the Census, although family coding limits the suitability of it in large complex family households, and where persons may be temporarily absent on Census night.

The CNOS is sensitive to both household size and composition. The measure assesses the bedroom requirements of a household by specifying that:

  • there should be no more than two persons per bedroom;
  • children less than 5 years of age of different sexes may reasonably share a bedroom;
  • children less than 18 years of age and of the same sex may reasonably share a bedroom;
  • single household members 18 and over should have a separate bedroom, as should parents or couples;
  • a lone person household may reasonably occupy a bed sitter.

Households living in dwellings where this standard cannot be met are considered to be overcrowded.

To align this group with the definition of homelessness, the rules apply the 'element' that the persons lack 'control of, and access to social relations'. Lack of accommodation alternatives is assumed for people living as usual residents in a dwelling that requires four or more extra bedrooms according to CNOS. The judgement is that people who had accommodation alternatives would not remain in such severely crowded circumstances.

There may be some under estimation associated with the application of the CNOS to Census data. It is not possible to create a CNOS estimate of the number of extra bedrooms needed for households where any key piece of information is missing. This includes the number of persons per dwelling, age of the persons, the relationship in household, and in some cases, where at least one person (who is not the spouse of person 1) is temporarily absent on Census night. In addition, there may be cases where usual residents are not recorded on the Census form due to fear by the residents that they may be found to have too many residents living in the dwelling than are allowed by their lease agreement.

Treating overcrowding as homelessness at this severe level of lacking four or more extra bedrooms is designed to prevent the misclassification of people as homeless who may choose to live together under some crowding to save money, to be close to family or for other reasons etc. In addition, it also takes account of the limitation of the Census household form which only seeks relationship information within the household in relation to 'person one', as well as child relationships to 'person 2'. This limitation of Census family coding results in misclassification of family relationships, particularly for large households with complex family relationships or households which contain multiple families, or where persons are temporarily absent. Households that look like crowded group households in the Census may actually include a number of couples. Under CNOS a single adult requires their own bedroom but a couple can share a bedroom, and the masking of relationships can inflate the crowding measure.

In the ABS Survey of Income and Housing (SIH), which does not go to very remote Australia, there were no dwellings sampled which required four or more extra bedrooms in either 2005-06 or 2009-10, and only a few in each of 2003-04 and 2007-08. The Census data present over 11,000 non-Indigenous people in private dwellings requiring four or more extra bedrooms in 2006. And for people in dwellings requiring three extra bedrooms the Census estimate for non-Indigenous people in private dwellings is 20% above the SIH average for the four survey cycles quoted. Drawing the line at four or more extra bedrooms required in the Census data aligns with the concept of extreme or severe overcrowding and reasonably well with results from ABS Indigenous surveys, and avoids overestimation from Census data at lower thresholds due to family coding, persons temporarily absent and potentially errors in the numbers of bedrooms being reported.

Other Census variables are not applied to imply accommodation alternatives in severely crowded dwellings. While some of the residents may own the dwelling in which they live in severely crowded conditions, the presence of other people that contribute to crowding demonstrates loss of the power to exercise control and choice in this living situation.

Rules for estimating Persons living in severely crowded dwellings

The following table presents the rules that are applied to identify the persons who were, on balance, most likely to be homeless on Census night and live in severely crowded dwellings. The rule starts with the persons enumerated in private dwellings where the dwelling would require four or more extra bedrooms under CNOS and then refines the group by removing people who have already been considered as homeless in the other homeless groups.

Diagram: Rules for estimating Persons living in severely crowded dwellings

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