1 This publication presents estimates of the prevalence of homelessness on Census night, derived from the Census of Population and Housing using the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) definition of homelessness. Prevalence is an estimate of how many people experienced homelessness at a particular point-in-time. The ABS uses six homeless operational groups to present the estimates of homelessness. Estimates are also presented for selected groups of people who may be marginally housed and whose living arrangements are close to the statistical boundary of homelessness and who may be at risk of homelessness.
2 In addition to estimates of the prevalence of homelessness from the 2016 Census of Population and Housing, this publication also includes selected estimates from 2001, 2006 and 2011 comparison. More detailed estimates for 2011 are available in Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011 (cat. no. 2049.0) and for 2006 and 2001 in Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2006 (cat. no. 2049.0). 2011 estimates have been revised for this publication, see the 'Boarding houses' section of these 'Explanatory notes' for more information.
3 Other ABS collections publish information on homelessness. The publications Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings (cat. no. 4430.0), General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) (cat. no. 4714.0) all included a module on previous experiences of homelessness. These data give a picture of the incidence of homeless, as well as trends in homelessness over time, at least for those who have transitioned out of homelessness at the time of interview. The ABS has also collected information in the Personal Safety survey: Personal Safety, Australia (cat. no. 4906.0) about people living in fear of a violent partner and where they go when they leave a violent partner. The GSS module is being further enhanced for incorporation in the 2019 GSS.
4 In May 2016, the ABS released the article Mental Health and Experiences of Homelessness, Australia, 2014 (cat. no. 4329.0.00.005). The article presented information from the 2014 General Social Survey on persons who reported experiencing homelessness in the past. Comparisons are made between people who reported having a mental health condition and people without a mental health condition.
Scope of the Census based homelessness estimates
5 The Census aims to enumerate all persons in Australia on Census night (with the exception of foreign diplomats and their families). People in Norfolk Island on Census night were counted for the first time in the 2016 Australian Census following passage of the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Act 2015.
6 To maximise the quality of the enumeration of the Australian population, the ABS has a special strategy to enumerate some homeless populations that are hard to enumerate through the standard Census procedures.
7 The Census is the only collection that goes to all persons in Australia, and is therefore the best source to get a prevalence estimate of the number of homeless Australian people at any one point-in-time. However, ‘homelessness' itself is not a characteristic that is directly measured in the Census. Instead, estimates of the homeless population may be derived from the Census using analytical techniques, based on both the characteristics observed in the Census and assumptions about the way people may respond to Census questions.
8 An accurate measure of the prevalence of homelessness allows society to judge some aspects of the scale of the problem. If prevalence measures are estimated on a consistent, comparable basis and at regular intervals, then trends and the direction of change can be determined. It allows society to hold itself and governments accountable for some outcomes at this broad level, and can be used to identify, over time, if interventions or policies have been successful.
9 As importantly, to target prevention, or amelioration of the circumstances of homelessness, it is necessary to know the locations of the homeless, and their characteristics. Such knowledge also allows monitoring of the outcomes of programs to identify what interventions are successful. Ideally, fine geographic level prevalence measures allow consideration of where homeless people are located for place-based targeting of services and other interventions. The characteristics of the homeless population, such as sex, age, whether of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin, or the identification of sub populations are also valuable delineations of a point-in-time measure for interventions tailored to client needs.
10 The prevalence estimates of homelessness cover usual residents in Australia and Other Territories on Census night and do not include:
- overseas visitors;
- people who were enumerated in offshore, shipping or migratory regions; and
- people on an overnight journey by train or bus.
11 In 2011 and previous Censuses, Norfolk Island was not included in the definition of geographic Australia. Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands have been included since the 1996 Census. These two changes reflect amendments to the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.
12 The prevalence estimates of homelessness cover persons in 'Other Territories' for the first time in 2016.
Concepts and definitions
13 This publication uses the ABS definition of homelessness, operationalised for using data from the Census of Population and Housing. A summary of the definition can be found in 'Appendix 1: Definition of Homelessness'. For more information also see:
- Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (cat. no. 4922.0);
- 'Appendix 2: Estimation Methodology'; and
- Information Paper - Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).
Homeless operational groups
14 The ABS has developed six homeless operational groups for presenting estimates of people enumerated in the Census who were likely to have been homeless on Census night. These groups are:
- Persons living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out;
- Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless;
- Persons staying temporarily with other households;
- Persons living in boarding houses;
- Persons in other temporary lodgings; and
- Persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings.
15 Detailed listings of the rules used to classify Census data for these groups are included in 'Appendix 2: Estimation Methodology'. More details on how these groups relate to the definition of homelessness can be found in the Information Paper - Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).
Other marginal housing groups
16 The ABS also compiles estimates from Census data for specific key groups of people who may be marginally housed, but who are not classified as homeless. Those groups are:
- Persons living in other crowded dwellings;
- Persons in other improvised dwellings; and
- Persons who are marginally housed in caravan parks.
17 The marginal housing groups are limited to the groups that can be obtained from the Census. Other marginal housing, such as housing with major structural problems or where residents are in constant threat of violence, cannot be obtained from the Census and are therefore not included.
Homelessness Statistics Reference Group (HSRG)
18 The role of HSRG is to provide advice to the ABS on the compilation, production and dissemination of robust statistics for use in analysing, understanding and reporting on homelessness in Australia.
19 HSRG members are selected to provide expert advice, from their particular perspective, on the priorities for and issues in the compilation, production and dissemination of robust statistics when analysing, understanding and reporting homelessness in Australia. The HSRG is represented by relevant Commonwealth and State and Territory government agencies, academia, peak organisations and service providers.
20 This group was also consulted during the 2011 and 2006 publication process.
Under/overestimation and underenumeration
21 Observing homeless people in any data collection is a challenge, and the homeless circumstance may mean that these people are not captured at all in datasets used to enumerate people generally. Not all homeless people will be enumerated in data sets of those homeless people accessing particular services for the homeless. The 2014 ABS General Social Survey found that, of those who had had an experience of homelessness in the last ten years and who were no longer homeless at the time of interview, only 33% had sought assistance of formal services (see Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014).
22 While data on people who access services are very important in understanding people who access services, they cannot provide an estimate of the total number of homeless people at one point-in-time. Only the Census offers the opportunity to estimate the number of people who were likely to have been homeless at any one point-in-time.
23 However, there is an inherent imprecision in estimating homelessness using data from the Census of Population and Housing. The Census is not designed to classify people according to whether or not they were homeless on Census night. Variables collected in the Census that were designed for other purposes must be interpreted as proxies for likely homelessness. The ABS methodology includes in its homelessness estimates groups of people who were enumerated in the Census and, on balance, were most likely to have been homeless on Census night.
24 It may be tempting to overestimate homelessness in some groups to compensate for both underenumeration and likely underestimation for some other groups. However, such an approach would result in estimates of characteristics that did not reflect those of the homeless population, including but not limited to their geographic spread. This may result in the misdirection of policy, funds and services. And while a balance between unavoidable underestimation and deliberate overestimation may result, this is unlikely, particularly when there is little information on the magnitude of underestimation. It is also very likely that the scale of any imbalance in error will be very different with each Census, destroying the capacity to monitor change over time. Recognising which groups of homeless people are underestimated in the Census, and using supplementary data sources to understand these groups, will both better address the needs of homeless people, and allow for assessments of change over time in the level of homelessness.
25 ABS recognises that some groups of people are more likely to be underenumerated in the Census. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' are more likely to be both underenumerated and overrepresented in the homeless population. ABS has developed strategies for each Census aimed at maximising the enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons.
26 So called rough sleepers and people staying in supported accommodation for the homeless are also at risk of being underenumerated in the Census. The ABS develops a homeless enumeration strategy for each Census, and works with homeless service providers to maximise the enumeration of these groups on Census night.
27 The ABS Post Enumeration Survey (PES) is used to estimate underenumeration of the Australian population in the Census. However it only covers people in private dwellings at the time of the PES, and therefore will not capture homeless people staying in non-private dwellings at the time of the PES but who were missed on Census night. Also the PES does not capture sufficient information to determine whether a person is homeless. Furthermore, the PES is a sample survey and the likelihood of including a homeless person in a private dwelling is low. For all of these reasons the PES cannot be used to estimate underenumeration or under-coverage of homelessness estimates derived from the Census.
Key population groups
28 For some key groups, Census variables provide limited opportunity to estimate those likely to be homeless. Three key groups are:
- homeless youth,
- homeless people displaced due to domestic and family violence, and
- homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
29 The ABS homeless estimates derived from the Census are likely to underestimate the extent of youth homelessness but there are no data available to determine even approximately the magnitude of the underestimation.
30 For some youth (sometimes referred to as 12–18 years or 12–24 years) who are homeless and 'couch surfing', a usual residence may still be reported in the Census. Their homelessness is masked because their characteristics look no different to other youth who are not homeless but are simply visiting on Census night. A usual address may be reported for 'couch surfers' either because the young person doesn't want to disclose to the people they are staying with that they are unable to go home, or the person who fills out the Census form on behalf of the young person staying with them assumes that the youth will return to their home. Homeless youth will be underestimated within the group: 'Persons staying temporarily with other households'.
31 ABS has not been able to establish any reliable way, with existing data sources, of estimating homelessness among youth staying with other households and for whom a usual address is reported in the Census. Service providers and researchers have indicated that the estimates of homeless youth derived from Census data do not concord with their knowledge about youth homelessness but there is no information to know the extent of any divergence. However, some of the views expressed about the prevalence of youth homelessness appear to reflect on the incidence of homelessness i.e. the number of youth who experience homelessness over a year will be many times the number who are homeless at any one point-in-time. For some purposes, particularly early intervention, an incidence measure may be more appropriate to inform on the scale of the issue.
32 Guided by its Homelessness Statistics Reference Group (HSRG), the ABS is continuing to undertake research and development to improve the estimation of homelessness, including youth homelessness.
33 Until a robust methodology is developed to measure the level of youth homelessness, the ABS will focus on producing transparent, consistent and repeatable estimates that can be used to monitor change over time. Because the ABS methods are transparent, users can assess whether there is any evidence to suggest that the components of homelessness that cannot yet be estimated reliably are likely to be moving differently over time to those elements that can be measured.
34 For analysis on youth homelessness from the 2006 Census see the ABS publications: Discussion Paper: Methodological Review of Counting the Homeless, 2006 (cat. no. 2050.0.55.001) and Position Paper - ABS Review of Counting the Homeless Methodology, August 2011 (cat. no. 2050.0.55.002). Further investigations on the limitations and challenges in estimating youth homelessness are available in the Information Paper: Living Arrangements of Secondary School Students - Quality Study, July 2012 (cat. no. 4111.0.55.001).
Persons displaced due to domestic and family violence
35 The ABS recognises the difficulties in both enumerating people who are displaced from their home due to domestic and/or family violence, and in classifying correctly as either homeless or not homeless all of those who are enumerated on Census night. Those enumerated in supported accommodation for the homeless will be measured. Some who are in boarding houses, staying temporarily with other households, in improvised dwellings or sleeping rough, or staying in other lodgings such as hotels or motels on Census night and who report no usual address will be classified as homeless. However some will not be able to be distinguished from other people who were visitors on Census night.
36 Some people who are displaced due to domestic and family violence may not be enumerated in the Census. Out of fear they may not have themselves recorded on any Census form for the dwelling they are staying in. For those who are reported on a Census form as being away from home on Census night, they may be reluctant, for a number of reasons, including stigma, to report having no usual address on Census night. Alternatively, they may have an expectation that they may be able to return to their home in the future and do not see themselves as not having a usual address. As a result they cannot be distinguished from other people who were visiting on Census night and Census based estimates must be recognised as being an underestimate for this group.
37 The ABS have worked with its HSRG members to look to ways to both improve the enumeration of these homeless people in future Censuses as well as developing alternative sources of information such as the Personal Safety Survey: Personal Safety, Australia (cat. no. 4906.0).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
38 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have been underenumerated in the Census, and estimates of homelessness based on Census data will therefore be an underestimation. In the 2016 Census, the net undercount rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians was 17.5%. Some of those who were underenumerated may have been homeless at the time of the Census.
39 The 2016 PES estimated that 786,689 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should have been counted in the Census, compared with 648,939 persons who were counted. This is equivalent to a net undercount of 137,750 persons, or a rate of 17.5%. This is only slightly higher than 2011, which estimated a net undercount of 114,188 persons, or a rate of 17.2% (ABS, 2016).
40 Indigenous status, as collected in both the Census and PES, is based on responses to a question related to information that some people will consider personal and sensitive. Respondents may choose to indicate in the Census that they are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, not of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, or they may choose to not answer the question at all. If no answer is provided, the Census does not impute for this missing response (which is also the case for imputed persons). While the person (real or imputed) will continue to be counted in broad-level Census counts, they will not be included in the Census counts for Indigenous status. There were 1,411,031 people (6.0%) whose Indigenous status was not stated in the 2016 Census, compared with 1,058,447 people (4.9%) in 2011 (ABS, 2016a)
41 Underestimation of homelessness among those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were enumerated in the Census may occur as, for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, information regarding 'usual residence' may have been provided which masks their homelessness.
42 It is debated in the literature whether the concept of 'no usual address' is appropriate for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Morphy (2007) discusses the problems in defining a 'usual resident' and 'visitor' in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian context, as the distinction between 'my country / not my country' is more salient than the distinction between 'resident / visitor'. This issue becomes particularly problematic for people who are highly mobile. Chamberlain and MacKenzie (2008) also discuss the relevance of 'no usual address' to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, as the 'usual address' question is approached with a different cultural frame of reference. They note that it is not culturally appropriate to record 'no usual address' on Census night because 'home' is understood in a different way, particularly when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are staying with their extended family. Due to the different cultural frame of reference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is widely assumed that the Western concept of 'no usual address' is under-reported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (Chamberlain and MacKenzie, 2008). This issue will impact on Census based estimates of homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons enumerated in the Census who are classified as being in the categories of 'improvised dwellings, tents, sleepers out', or temporarily visiting friends or relatives while homeless.
43 In recognition of the differences in understanding of the concepts of home and homelessness in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian context, the ABS is undertaking further research about how the ABS statistical definition of homelessness may be understood in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian context. The ABS developed a culturally appropriate module on previous experiences of homelessness in the 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey which can be compared to estimates from the total non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population from the 2014 General Social Survey.
44 Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelessness from the Census should be considered to be an underestimate.
Interpretation of the usual residence questions in the Census
45 The 'usual residence' or usual address variable in the Census is designed, for Census purposes, to report on: population characteristics by small area; and to report mobility i.e. of current usual address versus address one and five years ago.
46 Interpretation of Census data on 'usual address' as an approximation to homelessness without reference to other information reported in the Census is incorrect due to the way the question is worded and the intent of the question.
47 The ABS Census asks people to report a usual address. The instructions for reporting are to write in: "the address at which the person has lived or intends to live for a total of six months or more in the relevant Census year. For persons who have no usual address write NONE..."
48 For the first time in 2016, the ABS asked people who were in crisis accommodation to write 'none-crisis' instead of just 'none' as their place of usual residence. This message was part of the homelessness enumeration strategy and was passed on through homelessness service providers. Persons who reported 'none-crisis' as their place of usual residence and were enumerated in a private dwelling that were estimated to be in supported accommodation.
49 There are a very wide range of reasons why a person may not have stayed, or be intending to stay, at a particular address for six months or more in a particular Census year. In the 2007–08 Survey of Income and Housing about 16% of household reference persons reported having lived at their current private dwelling address for less than one year, implying that on average, at least 250,000 people change address each month (See Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009).
50 People will have moved from a former usual address for many reasons, for example moving for study or work, or upon retirement. Some of these movers may be temporarily accommodated in their new city or town, and at the time of the Census, cannot report a future address of the home that they have not yet rented or bought.
51 People who moved in July or August, just before the Census, might report their former home as the place they had lived for at least six months, but may consider it odd to report this old address as their 'usual' address. It is considered unlikely that people report a former usual address as their current usual address after they have permanently left that address, or left it on a long-term basis. The design of the Census 'usual address' question for reporting on mobility, and for supporting population measures, would be undermined if people did report their old usual addresses to which they would not be returning, or not returning for quite some time. By reporting 'no usual address' these people are counted in the population where they are enumerated, and counted as movers from their former usual address.
52 People moving to step up in either the jobs market or the residential property market, or people capitalising on their lifelong residential investment when they retire, may temporarily not own any property while between investments, but are unlikely to experience the forms of social exclusion that affect people who fit a more traditional view of homelessness. For example, as reported in ABC radio interviews, families moving from Queensland to Karratha to rent a slab on which to park their caravan reported that 'the money was just too good to refuse'. Such families would certainly benefit from cheaper housing options in their new area in the long term, either to rent or to add to their holdings of owned premises, but the issues for social inclusion are less likely to reflect the entrenched disadvantage (or risk of such disadvantage) that characterises the homeless population as defined by the ABS definition of homelessness, see Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (cat. no. 4922.0).
53 The ABS uses reporting of 'no usual address' as a starting point to classify anyone who may be homeless, and then refines this broad inclusion by analysing these people to classify, on balance, groups of people who are unlikely to be homeless. The areas of exploration of those reporting 'no usual address' but, on balance, as a group are unlikely to be homeless, include those identified as overseas students in group houses, 'grey nomads' travelling in their caravans after retirement, and a wide range of other people in visitor only households, especially those renting in holiday destinations, and sharing holiday accommodation with other families that do report a usual residence, and recently arrived migrants or residents returning to Australia who, similar to internal migration situations, have not yet had the opportunity to select their permanent home. Some of these people in these groups are clearly not staying with usual residents in a household, while others are staying in a substantial dwelling that they may own in a holiday destination but which may be a second or third home and is not their 'usual residence' in a Census year.
Identification of non-private dwellings and private dwellings
54 Both non-private dwellings (NPDs) and private dwellings may house people on Census night who may be homeless. NPDs include places such as hotels, motels, staff quarters, boarding houses, prisons, hospitals etc. Given the different context and Census field procedures, different interpretations of Census variables are required for private dwellings and NPDs to determine whether the occupants in the dwelling are, on balance, most likely to be homeless on Census night.
55 There has been a change in the way this information is collected. In 2016, it was recorded by ABS Address Canvassing Officers in the lead up to the Census as part of establishing the Address Register as a mail-out frame for designated areas. In areas enumerated using the traditional approach of delivering forms, the information was collected by ABS Field Officers during the Census collection period. Type of non-private dwelling data was also updated as required by ABS Field Officers during the 2016 Census enumeration period.
56 The boarding house classification of NPDs by their owners appears to work reasonably well in the field. However, the classification is not designed to only capture boarding houses for the homeless - it also captures dwellings such as regional accommodation serving children from multiple schools, which need to be removed for the purposes of estimating homelessness.
57 If a private dwelling is being operated illegally on the basis of multiple room-by-room tenancies, it may have been classified in the Address register and enumerated according to its legal and apparent basis of operation as a private dwelling and not as a boarding house. The methodology applies rules for large (apparently) unrelated group households in order to try to identify, and include as homeless accommodation, any private dwellings that may be operating as boarding houses. However, this method is limited in its precision and may overestimate as boarding houses the number of large (apparently) group households due to the limitations of the Census in capturing all relationships in the household.
58 The Census only captures the relationships in relation to the first person listed on the household form, and child relationships to person 2. Therefore, people in the household who are a couple, but neither person has a relationship to person 1, will not be reflected as a couple. Households with five or more usual residents may therefore be firstly incorrectly classified as group households, and secondly then incorrectly be assumed to be a boarding house for the homeless. When a usual resident on Census night is temporarily absent, failure to take this into account can also lead to wrong assumptions about the nature of both the household and the dwelling.
59 Some people in specific living situations in NPDs on Census night are not included in the definition of homelessness. While these living situations lack one or more of the key elements of 'home' identified in the definition of homelessness, the people occupying these places are not regarded as homeless. People in these living situations are not classified as homeless as:
- they may have chosen to live in these circumstances and have accommodation alternatives;
- are required by law to be living in these circumstances;
- are in acceptable temporary living arrangements (such as student halls of residence); or
- it is essential for their broader health and well-being to be living in these conditions.
60 The specific exclusions include:
- people confined in prisons, detention centres and other institutions such as juvenile correctional facilities or hospitals;
- students living in halls of residence; and
- members of religious orders such as monks and nuns living in seminaries and nunneries and similar establishments.
61 The definition of homelessness includes residents of boarding houses as homeless if they:
- do not have control of or access to space and or no privacy; or
- have no tenure or initial tenure is short and not extendable.
62 If it is assumed that people living in boarding houses do not have either of these elements and do not have accommodation alternatives, so they are considered homeless.
63 However, some residents of boarding houses have secure tenure and have access to space and privacy. These people would not be considered to be homeless, even if they do not have accommodation alternatives. The Census has some information which allows the ABS to establish whether a dwelling is most likely to be a boarding house. However it does not offer enough information about occupants security of tenure, or their access to space for social relations. Therefore, determining which occupants are homeless is difficult. In the absence of this information, on balance the ABS has included all people in these dwellings who are either usual residents (excluding staff) or visitors reporting no usual address, as homeless. This is likely to result in an overestimate of people who are homeless when assessed against the ABS definition. The ABS does, however, report those in boarding houses as a separate category to aid policy and service provision. This is because in some State and Territories boarding houses are used to move people out of other forms of homelessness, such as rough sleeping or couch surfing, towards more independent, secure, long-term accommodation.
64 Although the ABS makes a significant effort to identify boarding houses, both registered and unregistered, the ABS acknowledge that there will potentially be an underestimation of people living in boarding houses in estimates of homelessness, and an overestimation of those living in boarding houses who are likely to be homeless according to the ABS definition. For more information see 'Appendix 2: Estimation Methodology'.
65 The non-private dwelling type 'other or not classifiable' contains a variety of dwellings, including youth backpacker hostels and ski lodges. During validation it was identified that in some cases, these dwellings were being classified as likely to be homeless dwellings because they contained a large number of long term holiday makers, who were often not working, on low incomes, and reporting 'no place of usual residence'. In order to remove these from the homeless estimates, dwelling records in this category were scrutinised and removed if it was certain that they were holiday dwellings. This process was repeated for the 2011 estimates, and the population of this category has been revised accordingly. The number of persons in boarding houses in 2011 has been revised from 17,721 to 14,944.
66 In some cases, a boarding house was enumerated and classified as individual apartments due to having individual letter boxes, but additional information suggested that tenants only had a room rather than a self contained apartment, were sharing facilities such as bathrooms and kitchens, and the dwelling overall operated as a boarding house. The enumeration methodology has been amended for 2016 to ensure these dwellings are included as boarding houses. For more information, see 'Appendix 2: Estimation Methodology'.
Supported accommodation for the homeless
67 To ensure that people staying in supported accommodation for the homeless are correctly classified, the ABS obtains lists of homeless supported accommodation to correctly flag these dwellings as homeless accommodation. In 2011 and 2006, there was an additional 'green sticker' strategy, whereby a physical sticker was census form in some sensitive supported dwellings. This was discontinued for 2016.
68 However, the nature of the provision of accommodation to homeless people in need of housing support services is continually changing. In the lead up to the next Census, procedures will be reviewed to ensure that people in new forms of supported accommodation are correctly classified. Advice from service providers about clients who are accommodated using vouchers or 'brokerage' in hotels, caravan parks, etc. will be used to classify them as people in supported accommodation for the homeless.
Transitional housing management units
69 Long-term supported accommodation, often described as Transitional Housing Management (THM) Units, often provides some security of tenure, the dwellings are adequate (including basic kitchen facilities and a bathroom), and the household has privacy and exclusive use of those basic facilities. The THMs that meet these levels of housing, under the ABS definition of homelessness, would not be classified as homeless. However, persons living in those THMs that lack one or more of these elements would be classified as homeless.
70 ABS obtained lists of addresses of supported accommodation from government bodies, individual Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) providers and umbrella homelessness services organisations. In 2011 and 2016, 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. As this information is required to make an assessment about the adequacy of the dwelling, THMs have again been included in the homeless operational group 'Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless' in 2016.
71 Every effort was made to ensure that all households received a Census form and that they were completed and returned. The "Digital First" approach involved mailing information to households in most areas of Australia. Those households who did not respond received reminder letters and/or visits by Field Officers. For example, Field Officers were required to return to a household up to a total of five times after Census night in urban areas and up to three times in rural areas to attempt to obtain a response. This also applied where a householder stated they returned their form via electronic lodgement (online) or mail but the Field Staff had not received notification of the receipt of the form.
72 This is a change in 2016. In 2011, for some non-responding private dwellings Census Field Officers were able to obtain an estimate of the numbers of males and females staying in the dwelling and this was used as credible information to draw upon during the imputation process. This was not available in 2016 under the new collection method.
73 Where a private dwelling was identified as occupied on Census night but a Census form was not returned, the number of males and females normally in the dwelling and their key demographic variables require imputation. In these cases, the non-demographic variables are set to 'Not stated' or 'Not applicable'.
74 Where a person in a non-private dwelling did not return a form, their demographic characteristics are copied from another person in another non-private dwelling of the same type.
75 The dwelling response rate for the 2016 Census was 95.1%. In the 2011 Census this response rate was 96.5%, and in 2006 it was 95.8%. This measures the number of private dwellings that returned a completed Census form as a proportion of all private dwellings believed to be occupied on Census night. The decline in the reported dwelling response between the 2011 and 2016 Censuses is partly due to changes in the collection method that resulted in an overestimate of the number of occupied private dwellings. (ABS, 2016a)
76 The person response rate was 94.8% in the 2016 Census. In the 2011 Census it was 96.3% and in the 2006 Census is was 95.8%. Like dwelling responses rates, the over identification of occupied homes have led to a lowering of the reported person response rate in 2016 compared to 2011 and 2006. This measures how many people are included on a returned Census form as a proportion of all people (responding and non-responding) believed to be in Australia on Census night. Private dwellings believed to be occupied but did not return a Census form, contribute to the numbers of people who are considered non-responding. Similarly, people believed to be present in non-private dwellings (hotels, hospitals, boarding houses, etc.) but who did not complete a Census form contribute to the numbers of non-responding people (ABS, 2016a).
77 There are a number of reasons why person non-response occurs in the Census. People may indicate a desire to mail back a Census form or to complete the form online but may forget to do so, some people may refuse to complete a Census form, and some may have been left off a form. The dwelling response rate (outlined in the previous section) is only calculated for private dwellings, while the person response rate includes all people regardless of whether they are in a private or non-private dwelling,
78 No imputation is undertaken for 'rough sleepers', but it is undertaken for improvised dwellings.
79 Imputed records are retained in the estimates of homelessness for the group 'Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless'. While some of these properties were enumerated as NPDs in the 2016 Census, most were enumerated as private dwellings and reassigned a flag based on the lists of properties provided by jurisdictions. In flagged private dwellings where a form was not returned, 4,265 persons were imputed. The imputation rate (imputed persons as a proportion of total persons) for persons in private dwellings flagged as supported accommodation is 26%, compared to 4% for all persons in private dwellings.
80 For listed properties it is known that the property is not a second home, nor a holiday home or a vacant property up for either sale, demolition or renting etc. For the 4,265 persons imputed from a 'donor' record, this estimate may understate or overstate the numbers of homeless people actually in those properties on Census night. However, the scale of any such error is not likely to be large nor biased.
81 Imputed records for people staying in non-contact private dwellings that are not flagged as supported accommodation dwellings are excluded from the homeless estimates because there is no certainty about the nature of the dwelling occupancy on Census night (it might be a second home, a holiday home or a vacant property up for either sale, demolition or renting etc.) and no information is available about the characteristics of the occupants to assess their likely homelessness.
82 For more information on Census data quality, see Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia (cat. no. 2900.0).
Estimates of persons in supported accommodation for the homeless in 2001
83 While the 'list' and 'green sticker' strategies for SAAP properties were undertaken in the 2001 Census, the information was not retained. Therefore, for 2001 homelessness estimates of persons in supported accommodation for the homeless, the ABS has used data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) SAAP collection on the number of clients and accompanying children accommodated on Census night for every state and territory except Victoria. The Department of Human Services (Victoria) provided the ABS with a comprehensive list of their SAAP and THM properties. This was used along with the national SAAP data collection (to establish the number of women in domestic violence services) to provide an overall estimate of number of people in SAAP accommodation for Victoria in 2001.
84 In 2001, the total number of people in the homeless operational group 'Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless' was 13,420.
85 However, the homelessness SAAP estimates for 2001 are only for totals and by state and territory, and no Census demographic characteristics are available. Nor is it possible to remove overlaps between the AIHW based estimate and the other homeless operational groups which can be directly estimated using Census data, which will result in some minor overestimation.
2016 comparison between Census estimate of supported accommodation for the homeless and the AIHW SHS collection
86 As in previous Censuses, in 2016 the ABS used a list strategy to supplement the ABS classification of dwellings that were supported accommodation for the homeless. The lists of addresses of supported accommodation were provided from government bodies, individual SHS providers and umbrella homelessness services organisations. In 2016 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.
87 ABS enumerated 18,777 homeless persons in dwellings that were on the extra lists of supported accommodation. There were a further 2,576 persons in dwellings enumerated by ABS as non-private dwellings (NPDs which are hostels for the homeless, night shelters and refuges), which were not on the extra lists provided to ABS. In addition there were 55 persons who were residing in private dwellings who stated their usual residence as 'none-crisis' so were estimated to be in supported crisis accommodation. Together these strategies resulted in 21,235 homeless persons being enumerated in supported accommodation for the homeless in 2016.
88 The AIHW has provided ABS with data from the SHS Collection, for validation purposes, which are preliminary estimates of the number of people reported by SHS providers to have been in SHS accommodation on Census night (see tables 1 and 2 below).
Table 1. 2016 Census supported accommodation estimates and AIHW SHS provider estimates for reported accommodation on Census night (a)(b)
|Census supported accommodation estimates|
|SHS provider reports - persons accommodated|
|Census less SHS|
b. Cells in this table have been randomly adjusted to avoid the release of confidential data. As a result cells may not add to the totals
Table 2. 2011 Census supported accommodation estimates and AIHW SHS provider estimates for reported accommodation on Census night (a)(b)
|Census supported accommodation estimates|
|SHS provider reports - persons accommodated on Census night|
|Census less SHS|
b. Cells in this table have been randomly adjusted to avoid the release of confidential data. As a result cells may not add to the totals
89 The estimates from the Census are higher in total for Australia than the AIHW SHS Collection estimates, and higher for all jurisdictions except Western Australia and Tasmania. The jurisdictions which exceed the 2016 SHS by the most are Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. This is compared to the same data for 2011 in the table above. In 2011, Census data overestimated SHS data in Victoria and Queensland, and underestimated in New South Wales and Western Australia. Notable differences in the rates of over and underestimation between Censuses are in Victoria and New South Wales.
90 The SHS Collection data which AIHW provided relate to a single day (9 August 2016) that was relatively early in the SHS Collection period of progressive implementation of reporting by agencies, and the AIHW have indicated that due to this progressive implementation the SHS Collection data are underestimated by about out 6 to 7% nationally, although the underestimate varies by jurisdiction. In addition, the AIHW has advised that a number of jurisdictions have changed their service delivery models which may have affected both the actual and reported levels of accommodation.
91 Other differences in persons can be attributed to the list received by the ABS from providers. The ABS seeks to obtain lists from organisations other than just those receiving SHS funding, additionally, NPDs classified as 'Hostel for the homeless, night shelter, refuge' may also not receive funding and not be recorded in the SHS Collection. Conversely, ABS numbers are reliant on receiving high quality address data that can be matched to the Census frame, so a reluctance to provide this information, or poor quality address information may result in underestimation by the ABS in this category. Additionally, whilst instructions were given to providers about the scope of what should be classified as 'supported accommodation for the homeless'. interpretation of scope may also cause this number to vary from the SHS Collection.
Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS)
92 For both the homeless operational group 'Persons living in severely crowded dwellings', and for the marginal housing group of 'Persons living in other crowded dwellings' just outside the definition of homelessness, the level of crowding is estimated according to the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS).
93 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.
94 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. 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 its suitability in large complex family households, and where persons may be temporarily absent on Census night.
95 The CNOS for housing appropriateness 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 five 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 years of age and over should have a separate bedroom, as should parents or couples; and
- a lone person household may reasonably occupy a bed sitter.
96 Households living in dwellings where this standard cannot be met are considered to be overcrowded. Persons resident in dwellings requiring 4 or more extra bedrooms to meet this standard are considered homeless in the operational group 'Persons living in severely crowded dwellings', and those in dwellings requiring 3 extra bedrooms are considered marginally housed in the group 'Persons living in other crowded dwellings'.
97 There may be some underestimation 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. CNOS is not able to be determined for imputed records because, for such records, key information such as the number of bedrooms is missing. 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 more residents living in the dwelling than are allowed by their lease agreement.
98 For the first time in 2016, this measure is available as a standard output on the ABS Census dataset, as the variable 'HOSD Housing Suitability'.
99 In a small number of Northern Territory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, supplementary information was available to determine number of bedrooms where this was 'Not Stated' in the Census data. This has been included and those dwellings allocated an overcrowding measure where possible for the purpose of the homeless estimates.
Visitor only households
100 For the purposes of homelessness estimation and estimating marginal housing visitor only households are those dwellings where all persons in the dwelling reported no usual address and there were no usual residents.
Relationship status of visitors
101 Relationship information collected on the Census form is only retained for those persons who were usual residents in a dwelling on Census night. It is not possible to present information on the relationships of visiting youth, or persons who reported no usual address, to either the usual residents of the dwelling or to other visitors to the dwelling on Census night.
102 The following paragraphs include additional details on the monetary cut-offs used in the homeless methodology for 2016, 2011, 2006 and 2001.
103 People aged 15 years and over are asked to report their usual gross income in the Census by selecting an income range (they are not asked to report in actual dollars) before deductions for tax, superannuation contributions, health insurance, amounts salary sacrificed, or any other automatic deductions. Income is generally considered to be understated in Census reporting.
104 As it is not possible to directly aggregate personal incomes reported in ranges, a specific dollar amount is imputed for each personal income range selected by each household member, and these are summed for each household and the result allocated to a household income range.
105 Individual and derived household income levels are used as cut-offs in homeless estimation methodology (as outlined in the rules for each of the homeless operational groups in 'Appendix 2: Estimation methodology'), along with other characteristics of the person or household, in determining whether households were more likely to have, on balance, accommodation alternatives.
106 For the 'Boarding house' homeless operational group, an individual income cut-off of $650 per week was used in 2016. For 2011 and 2006, an individual income cut-off of $600 per week was used and $400 per week in 2001. If 60% or more of the residents of a dwelling had incomes above this level the dwellings was not likely to be boarding house.
107 For the 'Persons in other temporary lodging' homeless operational group, an individual income cut-off of $500 per week was used in 2016. For 2011 and 2006, an individual income cut-off of $400 per week was used and $300 per week in 2001. Any individuals in these dwellings with incomes below this level and also with certain other characteristics was classified as homeless.
108 A household income cut-off of $2,000 or more per week in the 2016, 2011 and 2006 Census in conjunction with certain tenure types and employment status to ascertain the likelihood of the occupants of a dwelling classified as improvised being construction workers etc rather than as being homeless. For 2001 the household income cut-off was $1,594 per week.
109 As with high income, paying relatively high rent is an indication that someone has accommodation alternatives. The cut-off for rental payments has been increased in line with the intercensal Consumer Price Index increase for rents, and rounded to the nearest cut-off for 'RNTRD Rent (weekly) Ranges'.
110 The cut-off for rental payments was set at $450 per week in 2016 ($400 per week in 2011, $300 per week in 2006 and $265 per week in 2001).
111 As for income and rent, mortgage payment cut-offs were set to a level considered to indicative of accommodation alternatives and above a level of payment that could be afforded by people who were, on balance, most likely to be homeless.
112 The cut-off was $1,600 per month in 2016 ($1,400 per month in 2011, $1,050 per month in 2006 and $845 per month in 2001).
Rates per 10,000 of the population
113 Population rates presented in this publication are presented as a rate per 10,000 of the total population. That is the number of homeless persons per 10,000 persons of the usual resident population in the Census excluding people, at sea, or in migratory and off shore regions. The table below shows the usual resident population numbers for the 2016, 2011, 2006 and 2001 Censuses that have been used as the base in the rate tables (table 3 below).
|Number of persons||no.||no.||no.||no.||no.||no.||no.||no.||no.|
|Age group (years)|
|75 and over||540,618||412,998||295,346||137,737||146,520||41,372||4,704||20,520||1,600,052|
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status|
|Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin||216,176||47,788||186,482||34,184||75,978||23,572||58,248||6,508||649,171|
|Neither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander origin||6,826,286||5,532,275||4,211,020||1,557,001||2,237,541||455,137||147,327||370,748||21,341,231|
|Need for assistance with core activities|
|Has need for assistance with core activities||402,048||304,937||243,267||100,651||95,653||32,631||6,855||16,747||1,202,945|
|Does not have need for assistance with core activities||6,558,727||5,220,867||4,103,669||1,473,913||2,185,295||441,248||190,038||357,654||20,535,077|
|Age group (years)|
|75 and over||476,491||359,351||246,341||124,348||122,330||35,939||3,530||16,495||1,384,837|
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status|
|Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin||172,625||37,992||155,826||30,432||69,664||19,625||56,779||5,184||548,129|
|Neither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander origin||6,402,111||5,069,155||3,952,704||1,503,204||2,038,783||456,343||137,773||338,029||19,898,112|
|Need for assistance with core activities|
|Has need for assistance with core activities||338,362||255,497||192,017||87,116||79,070||28,726||5,775||11,963||998,533|
|Does not have need for assistance with core activities||6,183,464||4,821,393||3,880,397||1,436,314||2,008,764||444,214||182,119||328,912||19,285,579|
|Age group (years)|
|75 and over||440,450||329,379||223,466||118,027||108,611||33,691||2,966||14,314||1,270,904|
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status|
|Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin||138,502||30,143||127,568||25,555||58,704||16,766||53,659||3,875||454,772|
|Neither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander origin||6,019,359||4,636,204||3,551,963||1,419,453||1,772,746||436,726||122,654||305,136||18,264,241|
|Need for assistance with core activities|
|Has need for assistance with core activities||278,246||208,228||154,706||73,401||68,406||23,657||4,622||10,317||821,583|
|Does not have need for assistance with core activities||5,838,233||4,430,402||3,491,296||1,363,328||1,747,503||427,337||165,767||297,714||17,761,580|
|Age group (years)|
|75 and over||383,789||282,149||187,155||103,423||90,331||29,478||2,374||11,597||1,090,296|
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status|
|Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin||120,040||25,059||112,569||23,375||58,464||15,855||50,795||3,548||409,705|
|Neither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander origin||5,916,178||4,443,980||3,277,812||1,401,623||1,699,101||428,386||125,307||295,912||17,588,299|
|Need for assistance with core activities(c)|
|Has need for assistance with core activities||na||na||na||na||na||na||na||na||na|
|Does not have need for assistance with core activities||na||na||na||na||na||na||na||na||na|
a. Cells in this table have been randomly adjusted to avoid the release of confidential data. As a result cells may not add to the totals.
b. 2016 Includes usual residents of External Territories and excludes usual residents at sea, migratory and off-shore regions. 2011, 2006 and 2001 Excludes usual residents of External Territories, at sea, migratory and off-shore regions.
c. Not available for 2001 as the data item 'Need for assistance with core activities' was not collected prior to the 2006 Census.
114 Table 1.5 shows the rate of homelessness per 10,000 of the population for all states and territories in 2016. The rate for the Northern Territory was 599.4 homeless persons per 10,000; higher than for the other states and territories. For all homeless operational groups, the rates of homelessness per head of population in the Northern Territory are higher than other states and territories. The rates for the operational groups 'Persons in improvised dwellings, tents, sleepers out' and 'Persons living in severely crowded dwellings' show that a higher proportion of the Northern Territory population are in these situations than for other states and territories: 47.9 compared with between 1.4 and 4.4 homeless persons per 10,000 for the improvised dwelling group and 483.5 compared with between 5.2 and 22.5 for those living in severely crowded dwellings.
115 The overall difference in the rate of homelessness for the Northern Territory is therefore driven by the rate for the operational group 'Persons living in severely crowded dwellings'. Nearly 40% of people in this operational group identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians. Compared to other states and territories in Australia, in 2016, the Northern Territory had a higher per capita population of Australians who were identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Persons living in severely crowded dwellings also had a higher proportion of persons who identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians.
116 Boundaries of SA2, SA3 and SA4 regions may change over time. Geographic correspondences between 2011 and 2016 editions of statistical areas are available in the downloads section of the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 1 - Main Structure and Greater Capital City Statistical Areas, July 2016 (cat. no. 1270.0.55.001). These can be used to understand the relationships between 2011 and 2016 areas and to convert data from 2011 ASGS regions to 2016 regions.
117 The ASGS Local Government Areas are an ABS approximation of gazetted local government boundaries as defined by each State and Territory Local Government Department. Local Government Areas cover incorporated areas of Australia. Incorporated areas are legally designated parts of a State or Territory over which incorporated local governing bodies have responsibility. The major areas of Australia not administered by incorporated bodies are the northern parts of South Australia, and all of the Australian Capital Territory and the Other Territories. These regions are identified as ‘Unincorporated’ in the ASGS Local Government Areas structure. More information on Local government areas and changes between 2011 and 2016 boundaries can be found in Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 3 - Non ABS Structures, July 2017 (cat. no. 1270.0.55.003).
Use of Census data for estimating homelessness
Presentation of relationship information
118 In the published estimates of homelessness the ABS has not presented data on relationships between people who are homeless, such as household composition or family composition, except for persons in the homeless operational group 'Persons living in severely crowded dwellings'. Relationship information is not available for all persons who are homeless. Some people in the homeless operational group 'Persons in improvised dwellings, tents, sleepers out' are enumerated on Special Short Forms which do not collect information to the individual respondent's relationship to anyone else. Persons enumerated in NPDs on the Personal Form are not asked to provide information to establish their relationship to anyone else in the dwelling.
119 While information is collected about relationships between visitors and between visitors and other residents of private dwellings this information is not retained in Census processing. Therefore is not available for the operational group 'Persons staying temporarily with other households'. It is, however, possible to present relationship information for the usual residents of the dwelling the person is visiting.
120 For these reasons it is possible only to consider relationship information for those in the homeless operational group 'Persons living in severely crowded dwellings'.
What's new for the 2016 Census
121 The Census of Population and Housing: Census Dictionary, 2016 (cat. no. 2901.0) lists changes to classifications and Census questions since 2011, and new variables for 2016.
Items not available for 2016 homelessness estimates release
122 The data item 'Remoteness Area (RA)' (a geographical standard for the publication of statistics by relative remoteness) was not available at the time of publishing, and therefore has not been included for use in the analysis of 2016 homelessness estimates in this publication. 'Remoteness Area (RA)' data and analysis relating to homelessness will be published later in 2018.
Level of highest educational attainment
123 The classification 'Level of Highest Educational Attainment' records the highest educational achievement a person has attained. In this publication, the category 'Below year 10' includes 'Certificate I and II' and 'Certificate I and II not further defined' and those who report no educational attainment.
124 The ABS identified a group of new migrants - these are people who arrived in Australia the Census year and were born overseas who report having no usual address and were enumerated in a private dwelling which was not an 'improvised dwelling, tent or sleeper out'. The vast majority of these new migrants were not considered to be homeless. However, the ABS identified a group of new migrants which are likely to be humanitarian migrants, who in the methodology are classified as homeless.
125 Humanitarian migrants are new migrants who report a country of birth which suggests they could be a recipient of a humanitarian visa. The top ten countries for humanitarian migrants are sourced from the Report ‘2015–16 Humanitarian Programme Outcomes’ (Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 2016). The 2001, 2006 and 2011 lists were sourced from the now discontinued ‘Immigration Update’ publication by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. This has necessitated a small change in definition whereby in 2001. 2006 and 2011 the list was the top ten countries for arrivals on humanitarian off-shore Visas, however for 2016 it is the top ten countries for Visas granted. The lists pertain to the financial year ending in the Census year.
126 In 2016 the countries were:
- Congo (DRC)
127 The Census of Population and Housing is the largest statistical collection undertaken by the ABS, and one of the most important. Its objective is to accurately measure the number and key characteristics of people in Australia on Census night, and the dwellings in which they live. This provides a reliable basis for the estimation of the population of each of the state, territory and local government areas, primarily for electoral purposes and for the distribution of government funds. The Census also provides the characteristics of the Australian population and its housing within small geographic areas and for small population groups. This information supports the planning, administration, policy development and evaluation activities of governments and other users.
128 In 2016, the ABS developed a new digital-first approach to the 2016 Census. The new approach changed the way Census materials were delivered to householders and how information was returned to the ABS. These changes were designed taking into account international best practices in Census procedures, and building on the Australian public's increasing access to and use of the internet, and their willing support of the Census.
129 Under the traditional Census method used for the past 100 years, forms were delivered by hand to every dwelling. The new delivery approach removed the need for Census Field Officers to visit every dwelling. Instead, approximately 80% of dwellings across Australia were, in the first instance, mailed information which included a unique login number for the online form. Those residents who did not wish to complete their form online were able to request a paper form, which they could complete and mail back in a provided prepaid envelope. For dwellings that had not responded by a specified date, reminder letters followed the initial correspondence. Census Field Officers then only visited dwellings that did not responded.
130 In the remaining areas of Australia, the more traditional delivery approach was used. In these areas, Census Field Officers delivered materials to each dwelling, enabling residents to either complete their form online or mail back a paper form. In these areas, the Field Officers attempted to make contact with residents when dropping off the form. Census Field Officers only made further visits to dwellings that had not responded.
131 About two thirds of Australians responded online to the 2016 Census, doubling the online response rate in 2011 of 33% (ABS 2016a)
History of the collection of data on homelessness in the Census of Population and Housing
132 The 1996 Census was the first Census to target Australia’s homeless population using a special enumeration strategy. This strategy aimed to not only maximise the coverage of the Australian population but also to provide information from the Census to policy makers and service deliverers on the number and characteristics of homeless people. The ABS has continued to have a special enumeration strategy for the homeless population for subsequent Censuses.
133 In the 2011 and 2016 Censuses the ABS employed special enumeration strategies for homeless people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In the lead-up to the Census, the ABS liaised with state/territory organisations in order to gain their assistance in correctly identifying accommodation likely to cater for the homeless. Prior to Census night, ABS staff from regional offices contacted groups providing services for the homeless to identify possible sites where homeless people were likely to be located. Where possible, members of the homeless community were to be engaged to enumerate ‘difficult’ areas where significant numbers of homeless people were likely to spend Census night. For more information see Appendix 3: 2016 Census Procedures in this publication.
134 However the ABS has a long history of collecting information relevant to identifying homeless people in the Census. In the 1933 and 1947 Censuses, a question was asked for the ‘number of persons (if any) who slept out throughout the year on verandahs (not enclosed sleep-outs)’. In 1986, a dwelling structure category ‘Improvised dwelling’ was provided on the form for the collector to mark. This category was changed to ‘Improvised home, campers out’ in 1991, but there was no distinction between homeless people and those who were camping (such as on holiday).
135 Questions about the usual residence where a person usually lives provides an indication on homelessness. However, from 1976 until 1991, those who had no usual address were instructed to tick their usual address as ‘this address’. They were classified as having their place of enumeration on Census as their usual address. Since then, the form has an instruction to write ‘none’ if a person does not have a usual address for six months or more in the Census year.
136 From 1976 to 1991, collectors were instructed to seek out all people camping or sleeping out by visiting ‘any places in your Collection District (CD) on Census night where it is likely that persons may be sleeping out, e.g. camping areas, park benches, derelict buildings etc’. They were instructed if they found such a person to issue a Household Form and help them fill it out on the spot. They were assigned to a non-private dwelling type ‘campers out’. However, some collectors may not have followed this instruction if they did not believe there were people in their area, or for fear of their own safety. Prior to 1996, some Divisional Managers undertook additional measures to enumerate the homeless, such as providing refreshments.
Homeless enumeration strategy
137 The Homeless Enumeration Strategy employed since 1996 was developed with the aim of ensuring that everyone was enumerated on Census night. The strategy targets those homeless groups that are hard to enumerate through the mainstream Census collection. For more information see 'Appendix 3: 2016 Census Procedures'.
Response errors and non-response bias
138 Two potential sources of error in the Census are response errors and non-response bias. These may occur in any enumeration whether it is a full enumeration (Census) or a sample.
139 Response errors include errors on the part of respondents. These reporting errors may arise through inappropriate wording of questions, misunderstanding of what data are required, inability or unwillingness to provide accurate information, and mistakes in answers to questions. Some of the response error will reflect people with imprecise knowledge about other residents in their dwelling nevertheless reporting on behalf of others.
140 Non-response bias arises because the persons for whom no response is available may have different characteristics in relation to homelessness and marginal housing than persons who responded in the Census.
141 Response errors and non-response bias are difficult to quantify in any collection. However, every effort is made to minimise these errors in the Census by careful design of questionnaires, intensive training and supervision of Census Field Officers and efficient operating procedures. Non-response bias is minimised by call-backs to those households which do not respond.
Census dictionary, 2016
142 The Census of Population and Housing: Census Dictionary, 2016 (cat. no. 2901.0) provides a ready reference for the 2016 Census of Population and Housing, providing information about the Census, the topics and classifications used, managing Census quality and a Glossary of Terms.
Census Post Enumeration Survey
143 The quality of the Census data is further enhanced by using information collected in a post-enumeration survey (PES) to obtain estimates of the net undercount in the Census. The PES is conducted immediately following the Census. While the PES collects information representative of the vast majority of Australians, it is not designed to estimate the undercount of persons who may be homeless (as it does not enumerate those who live in special dwellings such as boarding houses, or those who are not living in private dwellings at the time of the PES). It does, however, provide information about the characteristics of people who may have been missed in the Census. It will include some people who were homeless on Census night but were not homeless during the PES, or those who were staying in a private dwelling on Census night such as those people staying with other households.
144 Since the PES does not approach non-private dwellings (nor people sleeping out) it does not generate specific undercount rates for people in those circumstances at the time of the PES. However, the final undercount estimates are weighted to account for the entire population, including those people in non-private dwellings and those who were not in dwellings.
Census data quality
145 An independent assurance panel of eminent Australian and international statisticians, academics, and state government representatives was established to independently review and assure the quality of statistical outputs from the 2016 Census. Overall, the assurance panel found 2016 Census data to be fit for rebasing the Estimated Resident Population (ERP) and having comparable quality to previous Australian Censuses and International Censuses. The assurance panel concluded that 2016 Census data can be used with confidence. Their results were released in the report: Report on the Quality of 2016 Census Data, June 2017
146 The person response rate measures how many people are included on a returned Census form as a proportion of all people (responding and non-responding) believed to be in Australia on Census night. The person response rate was 94.8% in the 2016 Census, compared to 96.3% in 2011 and 95.8% in 2006.
147 An issue identified by the panel was a net undercount of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people identified from the 2016 Post Enumeration Survey, by a rate of 17.5 percent. This is marginally higher than in 2011, which estimated a net undercount of 17.2 percent of the population count. The panel advised the ABS to consider ways to improve the enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for future Censuses in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations.
148 It has become increasingly difficult to determine whether dwellings are private or non-private. For example, blocks of self contained apartments or units may provide a mix of short term hotel-style accommodation or long term apartment accommodation. Similarly, establishments such as boarding houses or supported accommodation may provide self contained accommodation, accommodation with communal facilities, or both. In addition, certain types of sensitive dwellings may not be easily identifiable as such and may therefore be treated as private dwellings. For more information please refer to the data quality statement for 'DWTD Dwelling type' and 'NPDD Type of non-private dwelling' in Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia (cat. no. 2900.0)
What other data can I use to help me to understand homelessness?
149 In addition to prevalence estimates of homelessness from the five-yearly Census of Population and Housing, the ABS has collected previous experiences of homelessness from the General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0) and Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings (cat. no. 4430.0). The ABS expects to also include this module, further developed, in the 2019 General Social Survey.
150 Previous experiences of homelessness in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population were also collected in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (cat. no. 4714.0). The question module differs slightly from the module included in the General Social Survey for cultural appropriateness. The ABS also released both a Discussion Paper: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Perspectives on Homelessness (cat. no. 4735.0) and an Information Paper: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Perspectives on Homelessness (cat. no. 4736.0) about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Perspectives on Homelessness. These papers presented findings from engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and homelessness service providers in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples perspectives on homelessness. The paper presents different perspectives of homelessness and their alignment with the ABS statistical definition of homelessness and identifies the implications for measuring homelessness in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context.
151 The ABS also be collects experiences of homelessness for people who leave a violent partner through the Personal Safety Survey. The results were released in the publication Personal Safety, Australia (cat. no. 4906.0).
152 There are also non-ABS sources of information about homelessness, such as the AIHW SHS Collection, and reports through the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI).
Products and services
153 The ABS offers specialist consultancy services to assist clients with more complex statistical information needs. Clients may wish to have the unit record data analysed according to their own needs, or require tailored tables incorporating data items and populations as requested by them. Tables and other analytical outputs can be made available electronically or in printed form. However, as the level of detail or disaggregation increases with detailed requests, the number of contributors to data cells decreases. This may result in some requested information not being able to be released due to confidentiality. All specialist consultancy services attract a service charge, and clients will be provided with a quote before information is supplied.
155 For users who wish to undertake more detailed analysis of the data, the survey microdata will be released through the TableBuilder product: Microdata: Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness (cat. no. 2049.0.55.002) . For further details refer to the Microdata Entry page on the ABS website.
156 The Census and Statistics Act 1905 provides the authority for the ABS to collect statistical information, and requires that statistical output shall not be published or disseminated in a manner that is likely to enable the identification of a particular person or organisation. This requirement means that the ABS must ensure that any statistical information about individuals cannot be derived from published data.
157 To minimise the risk of identifying individuals in aggregate statistics, a technique is used to randomly adjust cell values. This technique is called perturbation. Perturbation involves small random adjustment of the statistics and is considered the most satisfactory technique for avoiding the release of identifiable statistics while maximising the range of information that can be released. These adjustments have a negligible impact on the underlying pattern of the statistics.
158 After perturbation, a given published cell value will be consistent across all tables. However, adding up cell values to derive a total will not necessarily give the same result as published totals.
159 The introduction of perturbation in publications ensures that these statistics are consistent with statistics released via services such as TableBuilder.
161 As estimates have been rounded, discrepancies may occur between sums of the component items and totals. As estimates have also been randomly adjusted to avoid the release of confidential information, discrepancies may occur in estimates appearing in more than one table.
162 ABS publications draw extensively on information provided freely by individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated: without it, the wide range of statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.
163 The ABS acknowledges and thanks the service providers and their staff for their ongoing contributions to help maximise the overall quality of the enumeration of the homeless population in the 2016 Census, some of whom serve on the ABS' Homelessness Statistics Reference Group (HSRG).
164 The ABS established the HSRG 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. The ABS thanks all HSRG members for their contributions and commitment in advising the ABS.
165 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016a) Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia , 2016 (cat. no. 2900.0), Chapter: 'Item non-response rates'. Accessed 1 March 2018.
166 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016) Census of Population and Housing: Details of Overcount and Undercount, Australia, 2016 (cat. no. 2940.0). Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
167 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014) General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia 2014 (cat. no. 4159.0). Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
168 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009) Housing Mobility and Conditions, 2007–08 (cat. no. 4130.0.55.002). Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
169 Chamberlain, C and MacKenzie, D (2008) Australian Census Analytic Program: Counting the Homeless 2006 (cat. no. 2050.0) Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
170 Department of Immigration and Border Protection (2016), 2015–16 Humanitarian Programme Outcomes. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
171 Morphy, F (ed.) (2007) Agency, Contingency and Census Process: Observations of the 2006 Indigenous Enumeration Strategy in remote Aboriginal Australia Research Monograph, no. 28, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) ANU, Canberra.