2949.0 - Census Working Paper 97/1 - Homeless Enumeration Strategy, 1996  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/05/1997   
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Census Working Paper 97/1


(Evaluation of the Field Objective)

Kristen Northwood

May 1997


On Tuesday August 6, 1996, Australia held its 13th national Census of Population and Housing. The 1996 Census was the first to target Australia's homeless population in a special enumeration strategy.

The Homeless Enumeration Strategy (the Strategy) had two major objectives. The first was the Field Objective; maximising the coverage of the population including counting the homeless in the Australian census. This paper focuses on the Field Objective. It outlines the reasons why a strategy was necessary, how the Strategy was formulated, how it was implemented, and how, using the lessons learned from the 1996 Census, the Strategy can be improved for the 2001 Census.

The second objective of the Strategy was the Data Objective; providing information from the census to policy makers and service deliverers on the number and characteristics of homeless people. At the time of writing, data from the census is being processed and is scheduled for release later this year. Analysis of this data should allow further evaluation of the Strategy, in particular the extent to which the Data Objective was achieved. Such evaluation is left to future working papers.

Crucial to both these objectives was the selection of a definition of which people census operations would target under the Strategy. The definition adopted grouped homeless people into four categories; three of 'relative homelessness' and one of 'absolute homelessness' (people living without a roof over their heads). Mainstream census field operations were used to target the relatively homeless, and, as a result, many of the special operations discussed in this paper primarily deal with enumerating absolutely homeless people.

Indications are that the 1996 Census was the most effective yet in enumerating Australia's homeless population. However, as it was the first time that a national homeless enumeration strategy had been attempted, there will be room to improve the Strategy for the 2001 Census. The recommendations made with regard to the Field Objective for 2001 fall into two categories.

The first category deals with providing more detailed instructions to collection staff. These instructions include suggestions for organising special 'field offices' on census night, standard procedures for raising dummy forms and suggestions for an extended
time limit for obtaining responses.

The second category of recommendations deals with more clearly defining the roles of all census staff involved in the Strategy. These recommendations establish clear goals and responsibilities for all levels of the census staff structure. This should ensure a more consistent approach to the Strategy in all areas.