2050.0.55.002 - Position Paper - ABS Review of Counting the Homeless Methodology, Aug 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 02/08/2011  First Issue
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Contents >> Contents >> Future directions



The ABS is developing a broad work program in homelessness measurement, and the methodological review to inform and improve estimation from the Census data is a key element in that work program. The Census aims to count all persons in Australia on Census night. Stakeholders have reinforced the importance of the Census to both provide prevalence measures of homelessness, and track changes over time across the detailed characteristics of homeless people, their dwellings and their geographic locations to be able to both monitor progress and target services and interventions to reduce homelessness. Therefore much of the future work program will look at improvements to the Census itself - both improved enumeration strategies and content review, as well as improved analysis and potential augmentation with additional data sources.

The ABS is convening a Homelessness Statistics Reference Group (HSRG), with members from the sector, from academia, and from government, which will first meet in mid August 2011. The role of HSRG is to advise the ABS on the development, collection, compilation, production and dissemination of robust statistics for use in analysing, understanding and reporting on homelessness in Australia. Its advice will be key to improvements in Census data for analysis as well as in the better approaches to analysis.

The operation of the HSRG is expected to:

  • Foster collaborative engagement of sector, policy and academic stakeholders and key data producers to identify current research, policy and sector advances that may influence the development of homelessness statistics;
  • Utilise expert members to identify statistical requirements, priorities and possible trade-offs in developing homeless statistics to inform the forward work program;
  • Provide technical expertise on current and proposed new data sources used in the development and production of homelessness statistics;
  • Facilitate sector-wide involvement to build and sustain partnerships for improving homeless enumeration in identified sub-populations e.g. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, youth, and people who experience domestic violence.

The HSRG advice in regard to the Census aspects of the forward work program would be sought on each of the future activities briefly listed below.


ABS will work with the HSRG to finalise, for publication in May 2012, a methodology for producing official estimates of the number of people enumerated in the Census that were likely to have been homeless on Census night. There are many aspects of the methodology that need to be finalised, as noted in this Position Paper. Methodological aspects that require analysis of Census data during input processing will need to be resolved by the end of 2011, while methodological aspects that analyse output variables can be resolved shortly thereafter, and will be published in May 2012 along with recompiled estimates for both 2001 and 2006. Official estimates of homelessness from the 2011 Census will be published after second release Census variables are published in October 2012.

Concepts and definitions

One stream of work that will be undertaken that is broader than the methodological review, but will impact on it, is a consideration of the options both for a definition of homelessness and for ways to operationalise them. In this work the ABS will consider:
  • the concept of adequacy of the dwelling and where it could be broadened to include the quality of the structure, need for repair and the security of the occupants;
  • overcrowding, which is an aspect of dwelling adequacy for its occupants;
  • the concept of 'home' - broadening the concept of housing adequacy to include a place to keep possessions, to relax and undertake recreational activities, a place to withdraw, and a place to build community with family and friends; and
  • a state of houselessness or even rooflessness.

This work stream will look at homelessness as a concept and for issues of measurement among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, including focus work to ensure the cultural appropriateness of both the concepts and the approaches that the ABS will take to measure the concepts in the Census and in ABS surveys. Understanding the delineation between overcrowding and homeless will be critical in this work.

Youth homelessness

Several initiatives are under way with the 2011 Census that will improve enumeration, and potentially also estimation, of homeless youth from Census data. In regard to enumerating homeless people, including youth, specialist field staff are dedicated to the homelessness count. While exact numbers are not available for the 2001 Census, the resources were increased in the 2006 Census to over 250 staff. For the 2011 Census, these resources have been increased to over 550 specialist field staff. In addition, the ABS has been working with homeless service providers in each state and territory to encourage accurate reporting of no usual address by all homeless people including those who are 'couch surfing'.

While the initiatives in the previous paragraph are expected to improve the under-estimation of homelessness in 2011, including for youth, some homeless youth who are 'couch surfing' may still not be reported as having no usual address and therefore are unlikely to be directly classifiable as homeless in analysis of Census variables. Therefore, to understand the possible under-reporting of homeless youth in the 2011 Census, the ABS will undertake a quality study of homeless school students soon after the 2011 Census. This study will also scope a possible methodology for a more frequent survey of homeless school students.

The ABS will continue to undertake additional analysis to develop the final methodology for how youth are included in homeless estimates, drawing on the expertise of the Homelessness Statistics Reference Group. Other data sources, including ABS surveys, will be considered as ways to both quantify the scale of underestimation, and potentially provide for aggregate adjustment to Census based measures.

Domestic violence

For the 2011 Census, the ABS will repeat the very successful 2006 practice of jurisdictional lists and the 'green sticker' approach for supported accommodation arrangements. As with youth homelessness, the ABS has also been working with homeless service providers in each state and territory to encourage accurate reporting of no usual address by all homeless people including who may be staying with friends and relatives because of domestic/family violence issues. While this may improve the under-estimation of homelessness in 2011, some people who have fled domestic or family violence may still not be reported as having no usual address, or not be recorded on a Census form at all, and therefore they cannot be identified in homeless estimation directly from the Census. However, using administrative data about those seeking support from services, and other sources such as the data collected from the ABS General Social Survey, and in future surveys such as the next Personal Safety Survey, will help to provide a broader understanding of the homeless circumstances these people.

The ABS will draw on the expertise of the Homelessness Statistics Reference Group to further understand homelessness due to domestic violence and options for using other data in the context of estimation from the Census data.

The marginally housed population

As a result of the review, including the feedback received through consultation and the submission process, and a further brief exploration undertaken into marginal housing, the ABS, with advice from the Homeless Statistics Reference Group, will explore how to define the marginally housed population. Focus group work in caravan parks is anticipated, both to look at the circumstances of long terms residents but also to explore the aspects of long term travelling and how it relates to Census reporting of homelessness. The ABS will then determine if there are adequate characteristics, as collected in the Census of Population and Housing, which could be used to separately identify the marginally housed population. Results of investigations will be presented alongside estimates of the homeless population.


The ABS Census activities for 2011 aim to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and newly arrived communities are enumerated in the Census. These activities may help to ensure that overcrowding is better identified. While the delineation between homelessness and overcrowding is being addressed through the review of concepts, ABS will nonetheless present overcrowding, along with other marginally housed populations, in parallel with estimates of homelessness.

Construction workers, owner builders and renters of improvised dwellings

The ABS will seek advice from the Homelessness Statistics Reference Group and explore these groups in more detail. The ABS will then determine if there are other characteristics, collected in the Census of Population and Housing, which could be used to further refine these populations, and decide how the data should be separately presented alongside homeless estimates in the future.

For the 2011 Census the ABS will undertake additional analysis in real time during Census processing to identify geographic areas where construction workers may be generally concentrated or in mobile accommodation. This analysis will in part substitute for the retrospective rules based approach adopted for 2001 and 2006, but also highlight modification to the rules that may assist in refining these populations.

The ABS plans include specific analysis to gain a statistical picture of residents living in improvised dwellings on their own properties as a result of natural disasters and seek expertise in developing methods for analysing areas affected by recent disaster events. The ABS will bring a strategy to the HSRG.

In the longer term, new possible content for the 2016 Census may supply information on dwellings owned by people, other than the dwelling in which they are enumerated in on Census night. This will both inform on this wider housing perspective but also to help delineate construction workers, owner builders and hobby farmers from homeless people.


Consultation has already highlighted further areas for analysis regarding this group. While the 'grey nomad' measurement issue will in part be picked up through focus group work in caravan parks, further research on alternate data sources is also needed.

In the longer term, new possible content for the 2016 Census may supply information on dwellings owned by people, other than the dwelling in which they are enumerated in on Census night. This will both inform on this wider housing perspective but also to help delineate travellers from homeless people.

Boarding houses

To improve the overall boarding house estimation, the ABS will investigate for the 2016 Census compiling more comprehensive lists of the legal (and potentially illegal) boarding house properties from states and territories, from local governments, and from homelessness services who refer clients to boarding houses.


Some options for improving both enumeration and estimation in future Censuses are discussed in this Position Paper and a few are highlighted above. Another aspect of potential future improvement in homelessness estimation from the Census will be the possible inclusion of new content around, for example, health status, so that the homeless population can be compared with the rest of the population. Homelessness in the Census may therefore be able to be studied in terms of its cause arising from other factors, or its consequence for other outcomes in life.


The Discussion Paper and this Position Paper have discussed the potential use of several ABS household surveys to report on past periods of homelessness, from which a picture of the incidence of homeless can be derived, as well as trends in the homelessness over time, at least for those who transition out of a period of homelessness. The homeless module has been run in the 2010 GSS, is being tested for the 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, and is under consideration for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey. Specific aspects of homeless and housing, such as in the context of domestic violence, are being trialled for ABS surveys.


The ABS will investigate using the 5% SLCD to undertake longitudinal analysis of the circumstances of those who have been identified as likely to be homeless. The circumstances of people identified as likely to be homeless on the 2011 SLCD can then be compared with their circumstances in 2006, and into the future it should be possible to report on repeat periods of homelessness and long term outcomes as seen in the SLCD. It will also be possible to compare these results, for those likely to be homeless, with the rest of the population.

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