2049.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/11/2012   
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The Census of Population and Housing aims to count everyone in Australia on Census night. A number of procedures and special enumeration strategies are used together to maximise the overall enumeration of the Australian population. The enumeration strategies relevant to homelessness estimation are the Homelessness Enumeration Strategy and the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy. For more information see Information Paper: 2011 Census Special Enumeration Strategies (cat no. 2911.0.55.004).

The key procedures and strategies implemented in the 2011 Census relevant to the estimation of homelessness included:

  • improvements to the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy,
  • over twice as many specialist field staff were employed to conduct the homeless count in 2011 than in 2006 (over 550 staff in 2011 compared with over 250 in 2006), and
  • more comprehensive review of the quality of coding of household forms for dwelling structures initially coded by Census collectors as 'improvised home, tent, sleepers out'.

ABS also sought additional lists from jurisdictions and homelessness services to support the separate classification of transitional housing within supported accommodation for people who are homeless, and to assist in the classification of boarding houses likely to accommodate people who are homeless.

Homelessness Enumeration Strategy

The Homelessness Enumeration Srategy is a nation-wide initiative designed to complement the mainstream Census and other special strategies to maximise the overall enumeration of the homeless population. It targets the enumeration of rough sleepers, couch surfers and persons in supported accommodation for the homeless.

Rough sleepers

The approach for counting rough sleepers was to focus on 'hot spots', using information received from service providers. ABS then worked closely with service and accommodation providers in awareness raising and local engagement in those areas, and recruited 550 specialist field staff to help count people sleeping rough.

As in 2006, a collection period of one week spanning Census night was used to cover the various 'hot spot' locations. The use of Special collectors, and particularly staff recruited from homelessness services, is designed to not only use their expertise to locate people sleeping rough, but also to ensure that the information collected relates only to those people sleeping rough on Census night (with no likelihood that they were enumerated elsewhere) and that they are not enumerated more than once in the 'hot spot' locations.

In 2011, the Special Short Form used in 2006 was again generally used to enumerate rough sleepers. However, to account for the different context of people sleeping rough in Northern Australia (including the Northern Territory and northern parts of Western Australia and Queensland) the mainstream household form was also used which captures more comprehensive information for groups of people sleeping rough (such as the Darwin 'long-grassers').

Couch surfers

In 2011, the identification of 'couch surfers' on mainstream forms was given greater emphasis than in previous Censuses. ABS ran a targeted promotion campaign, through agencies such as Anglicare and the Salvation Army, to encourage people who were homeless to write 'None' in response to the usual address question on the Census form to indicate clearly that they had no usual address.

Supported accommodation for the homeless

As in previous Censuses, the ABS again used both a 'list' strategy and a 'green sticker' strategy to support ABS classification of dwellings that were supported accommodation for the homeless.

ABS obtained lists of addresses of supported accommodation from government bodies, individual Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) providers and umbrella homelessness services organisations. In 2011 ABS also sought information about what type of supported accommodation was provided i.e. whether it was crisis or transitional housing etc. Some of the lists ABS received included this extra detail, some did not.

Green stickers were sent to relevant organisations to distribute to dwellings such as refuges that were not on the address lists sent to the ABS. The green stickers were placed on the Census forms completed in those dwellings and mailed back to ABS, minimising contact with the local Census collector and maintaining both the confidentiality of the nature of the dwellings and the privacy of the people in those dwellings on Census night. On receipt of mail back (whether green stickered or not) collectors are advised that the form had been returned by post and not to return to the dwelling.

Boarding houses

New lists of boarding houses (both registered and illegal boarding house operations) were sought from jurisdictions and homelessness service providers in 2011 and were received from Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. It is unlikely that these lists covered all boarding houses in those states.

Indigenous Enumeration Strategy

In 2011, the Homeless Enumeration Strategy was implemented in conjunction with other Census special enumeration strategies, particularly the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy, to target culturally appropriate strategies at nominated discrete Indigenous communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households in urban and rural areas. There was also a coordinated northern Australia enumeration strategy to address challenges of counting the dispersed and mobile populations in these areas.

In nominated discrete communities the procedures included interviewing each Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander household using a tailored Interviewer Household Form (IHF) - and employing local people, where possible, to conduct the interview.

The 2011 Census was the first time that comprehensive information was collected about persons temporarily absent from the household where the IHF was being administered, including where those persons were likely to be. If people were reported as being away in a non-private dwelling where they were likely to have been counted (e.g. prison, boarding school), were away somewhere other than in a discrete community, or were away in another state/ territory, they were considered 'out of scope' of the matching exercise and their status of temporarily absent on the IHF was retained. However, if they were likely to have been in another community and there was no record of them on IHFs collected from that other community, their status was coded by processing staff as being 'present' on the IHF where they were both usually resident and from where they were reported as being temporarily absent. This new procedure helped ensure that all persons who were enumerated on an IHF as 'temporarily absent' were accounted for.

Other changes

In previous Censuses, people sleeping rough and enumerated on the Special Short Form were coded as lone person households usually resident at their place of enumeration. In 2011 they were coded as 'visitor-only households' having 'no usual address'. For more information see ABS fact sheet: Change in processing - Special Short Form on the ABS website.

In 2006 Census output, despite the quality controls in processing, there were about 700 people who were incorrectly classified as living in 'improvised home, tent, sleepers out' (they had moved into houses in a manufactured home estate or into new houses among other dwellings still under construction). There may have been other such mis-classification errors that remain undetected. In 2011 there was a more comprehensive review of the quality of coding of household forms for dwelling structures initially coded as 'improvised home, tent, sleepers out'.

Overall, about 860 dwellings with an initial classification of 'improvised home, tent, sleepers out' were corrected in 2011 Census processing. About 200 of the dwellings were in manufactured home estates, another 500 were reclassified as caravans or cabins, and about 100 were flats attached to a house, shop or office.


The improvements to the Indigenous Enumeration Strategy will have improved the count of the Indigenous population and counted people away from home in a variety of contexts who might otherwise have been missed. However, it is not possible to determine whether an improvement in the overall enumeration of the Indigenous population had any impact on the quality of the estimates of homeless people who were Indigenous.

Similarly, the improvements in the Homelessness Enumeration Strategy will have improved the quality of the information available from the Census on which to base estimates of homelessness, particularly the expanded use of specialist field staff and the provision of additional lists of boarding houses. The extent of the improvement, compared to a counter-factual outcome from no change, cannot be estimated for the rough sleeper count nor for the 'couch surfer' promotional program. The impact of the extra lists of boarding houses provided for some jurisdictions in 2011 was relatively small. The improvements to the coding of 'improvised dwelling, tent, sleepers out' corrected the data in Census output for general use and avoided the necessity to correct it in homelessness estimation, but is unlikely to have made a significant difference to the homelessness estimates.