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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Contents >> Other homeless definitions used to inform the ABS definition of homelessness >> OTHER HOMELESS DEFINITIONS USED TO INFORM THE ABS DEFINITION OF HOMELESSNESS


In developing the three key elements listed in the preceding chapters, the ABS has drawn on research on notions of homelessness. The ABS draws heavily on the European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS) and subsequent work by Statistics New Zealand for the NZ statistical definition of homelessness. The ABS also reviewed the Chamberlain and MacKenzie cultural definition, the SAAP definition and the recently released Australian Government exposure draft on homelessness. These definitions are presented in Appendix 3.

ETHOS Definition

The European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion 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 homeless 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 four conceptual categories are divided into 13 operational categories to which are mapped 24 living situations as shown below.

Diagram: ETHOS Definition

In December 2010 the Jury of the European Consensus Conference on Homelessness concluded that homelessness is a complex, dynamic and differentiated process with different routes and exits, or “pathways”, for different individuals and groups. The jury recommends the adoption of the European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion according to four main living situations of rooflessness; houselessness; living in insecure housing; and living in inadequate housing.

The ETHOS conceptual definition appears to align in most respects with the ABS definition. Its use of the term extreme over-crowding in operational group 13 corresponds to the ABS concept of severe overcrowding.

The ETHOS definition differs in its inclusion of people in immigration detention centres (operational group 5) and in institutions (such as prisons) who are due for release but for whom there is no housing available (operational group 6). These are explicit exclusions from the ABS definition.

In ETHOS operational group 9 (people living under threat of eviction) the 'threat' includes either a repossession order (e.g. mortgage default) or eviction order for renters. In the ABS definition, these people have no tenure and will be homeless if they have no accommodation alternatives. Remaining physically within a dwelling to which you have no legal right and for which a legal process has commenced to remove you is akin to 'squatting' in the dwelling.

ETHOS operational group 7 (people receiving longer term support due to homelessness) could be construed to include people entering residential aged care in Australia on a priority basis due to homelessness. The ABS definition would regard these people as having tenure and they would not be homeless. For those in longer term supported accommodation, characterised by some security of tenure, the ABS definition would exclude them from being homeless (e.g., transitional housing in Victoria).

Statistics New Zealand 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).

Chamberlain and MacKenzie Cultural Definition

In terms of the ABS definition of homelessness compared to the Chamberlain and MacKenzie Cultural definition:
      Minimum community standard: a small rental flat - with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and an element of security of tenure (Chamberlain and MacKenzie, 2008).

The ABS definition is a broader definition than the Chamberlain and MacKenzie definition because it is centred around the concept of 'home' and includes the critical elements of home. The C&M definition is essentially framed around an accommodation standard.

Like the C&M definition, the ABS definition includes security of tenure and the adequacy of the dwelling, however in the ABS definition both of these elements are more specific in describing what security of tenure is and what the adequacy of the dwelling is.

The C&M definition describes security of tenure as 'an element of security of tenure' and the adequacy of the dwelling is that it has a bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom but not whether the dwelling should be fit for human habitation. Using the C&M definition a studio apartment could be considered below the minimum standard.

The ABS definition includes other elements in which C&M do not include:
  • the third element - control of, and access to space AND
  • accommodation alternatives.

ABS Definition compared to Other Definitions

The following table compares the ABS elements to other definition of homelessness to identify the similarities and differences between each of the definitions of homelessness that were used to inform the ABS definition.

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