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Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness

Estimates of persons who were homeless or marginally housed as calculated from the Census of Population and Housing

Reference period
2016

Key findings

Introduction

Homelessness is not just the result of too few houses. Its causes are many and varied. Domestic violence, a shortage of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse all contribute to the level of homelessness in Australia (FaHCSIA, 2008). Homelessness is not a choice. Homelessness is one of the most potent examples of disadvantage in the community, and one of the most important markers of social exclusion (Department of Human Services, 2002).

Effective targeting of policies and services for reducing homelessness requires transparent, consistent and repeatable statistics. However, there are many dimensions to homelessness, and different statistics are needed for different purposes.

Prevalence estimates (of how many people experienced homelessness at a particular point-in-time) allow society to judge the scale of homelessness, and can be used to report trends and to target services to prevent or ameliorate the circumstances of homelessness through knowing both the locations of the homeless and their characteristics.

While homelessness itself is not a characteristic that is directly collected in the Census of Population and Housing, 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.

This publication presents estimates of the prevalence of homelessness, and the characteristics and living arrangements of those likely to be homeless, on Census night 2016 and compares those estimates to Census night in 2011, 2006 and 2001. Estimates are also provided for people whose living arrangements are close to the statistical boundary of homelessness, but who are not classified as homeless. For more information see 'Other marginal housing groups'.

For some groups of people, 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 peoples. Notwithstanding the limitations of the Census variables for the analysis of homelessness, the estimates presented in this publication have been compiled on a generally consistent basis so that they can be compared over time to track increases or decreases in homelessness. Any unavoidable inconsistencies in methodology are described and broadly quantified so that users can understand any limitations in comparisons over time.

An overview of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) methodology for estimating homelessness from the Census is provided in 'Appendix 2: Estimation Methodology', available from the Methodology page of this publication. For more information see the Information Paper - Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing, 2012 (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).

The ABS definition of homelessness underpins the methodology used to compile the ABS estimates of homelessness. An overview of the definition is provided in 'Appendix 1: Definition of Homelessness', available from the Methodology page of this publication. Under the ABS definition, a person is homeless if they do not have suitable accommodation alternatives and their current living arrangement:

  • is in a dwelling that is inadequate;
  • has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable; or
  • does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations
     

For more information on the ABS definition of homelessness see the Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0).

Key results

The key homelessness estimates from the 2016 Census are:

  • There were 116,427 people enumerated in the Census who are classified as being homeless on Census night (up from 102,439 persons in 2011);
  • The homeless rate was 50 persons for every 10,000 persons enumerated in the 2016 Census, up 5% from the 48 persons in 2011 and up on the 45 persons in 2006;
  • The homelessness rate rose by 27% in New South Wales, while Western Australia fell 11% and Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory each fell by 17%;
  • Most of the increase in homelessness between 2011 and 2016 was reflected in persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings, up from 41,370 in 2011 to 51,088 in 2016;
  • The number of people spending Census night in supported accommodation for the homeless in 2016 was 21,235, little changed to those in 2011 (21,258 persons);
  • There were 17,503 homeless persons living in boarding houses on Census night in 2016, up from 14,944 in 2011;
  • The number of homeless persons living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out in 2016 was 8,200, up from 6,810 in 2011;
  • People who were born overseas and arrived in Australia in the last 5 years accounted for 15% (17,749 persons) of all persons who were homeless on Census night in 2016;
  • The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were homeless was 361 persons for every 10,000 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, a decrease from 487 in 2011;
  • Homeless youth (aged 12 to 24 years) made up 32% of total homeless persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings, 23% of persons in supported accommodation for the homeless and 16% of persons staying temporarily in other households in 2016;
  • Nearly 60% of homeless people in 2016 were aged under 35 years, and 42% of the increase in homelessness was in the 25 to 34 years age group (up 32% to 24,224 persons in 2016);
  • The number of homeless persons aged 55 years and above has steadily increased over the past three Censuses, from 12,461 in 2006, to 14,581 in 2011 and 18,625 in 2016 (a 28% increase between 2011 and 2016). The rate of older persons experiencing homelessness has also increased, from 26 persons per 10,000 of the population in 2011 up to 29 in 2016;
  • The male homelessness rate increased to 58 males per 10,000 males enumerated in the 2016 Census, up from 54 in 2011, while the rate for females remained steady at 41 per 10,000 females; and
  • Among those people who were not classified as being homeless on Census night but were living in some form of marginal housing and may be at risk of homelessness, the number of people living in other improvised dwellings increased moderately by 20% to 5,401 persons in 2016, and the number of people living in crowded dwellings requiring three extra bedrooms jumped 33% to 80,877 in 2016, while the number of people marginally housed in caravan parks fell by 18% to 10,685 persons in 2016.
     

The following table presents the time series of homelessness estimates for the six homeless operational groups for 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016.

Table 1.1 Persons by homeless operational groups, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 (a)

 2001 2006 2011(b) 2016 
no.%no.%no.%no.%
Persons living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out
8,946
9
7,247
8
6,810
7
8,200
7
Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless
13,420
14
17,329
19
21,258
21
21,235
18
Persons staying temporarily with other households
17,880
19
17,663
20
17,374
17
17,725
15
Persons living in boarding houses
21,300
22
15,460
17
14,944
15
17,503
15
Persons in other temporary lodging
338
-
500
1
682
1
678
1
Persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings
33,430
35
31,531
35
41,370
40
51,088
44
All homeless persons
95,314
100
89,728
100
102,439
100
116,427
100
- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
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. Homeless estimates from 2011 for the category 'Persons living in boarding houses' have been revised.
 

Severe overcrowding

People living in 'severely' crowded dwellings (i.e. usual residents of dwellings which needed four or more extra bedrooms to accommodate them adequately) have been the largest homeless group in each of the last four Censuses. While the number of people in this group fell slightly between 2001 and 2006, it jumped 31% (9,839 persons) to 41,370 in 2011 and again in 2016, up a further 23% (9,718 persons) and accounted for the majority of the rise in homelessness in 2011 and 2016. The majority of the increase in 2016 is attributed to New South Wales, up 74% (7,166 persons) to 16,821 persons compared with 9,655 in 2011.

The number of persons in this homeless group who were born overseas has doubled. In 2016 there were 9,514 persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings who were born overseas and who had arrived in Australia in 2011 or earlier, up 61% when compared to 2011 (5,914 persons arrived in Australia in 2006 or earlier) and 13,088 who had arrived in Australia after 2011 and were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings on Census night.

People arriving from India, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Thailand and Taiwan accounted for about half the rise in the overseas born estimate for this homelessness group.

Overseas born homeless people living in 'severely' crowded dwellings accounted for more than three quarters the rise in homelessness in both the 19 to 24 years age group and in the 25 to 34 years age group.

Supported accommodation

After severe crowding, supported accommodation for the homeless was the second largest homeless group in 2016, accounting for 18% of homeless persons on Census night. There were 21,235 persons in supported accommodation in 2016, similar to 2011. New South Wales increased by 19% (937 persons) to 5.861 persons in supported accommodation for the homeless in 2016.

While supported accommodation accounts for 18% of the homeless in 2016, it accounts for 26% of homeless children aged under 12 years, 26% of youth aged 12 to 18 years and 21% of older homeless persons aged 75 years and over.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continued to be over represented generally in the 2016 homelessness estimates (20%) and in supported accommodation (14%), compared to 3% of the total Australian population.

See the 'Explanatory Notes' on the Methodology page for a comparison of ABS Census based estimates of people in supported accommodation and estimates from the Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) Collection conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Boarding houses

There were 17,503 homeless persons living in boarding houses on Census night in 2016, up 17% on the estimate for 2011. The majority of the increase is attributed to New South Wales, up 19% or 1,076 persons to 6,869 in 2016 from 5,793 in 2011.

The majority of the homeless boarding house population is male (73%). They are also older than the rest of the homeless population with 48% of the boarding house homeless population aged 45 years and over, compared to 28% of the total homeless population being in that age bracket.

Only 3% of the homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population were living in boarding houses on Census night.

See 'Appendix 2: Estimation methodology', available from the Methodology page of this publication for more information on changes to the methodology for estimating persons living in boarding houses between 2011 and 2016. Homeless estimates from 2011 for the category 'Persons living in boarding houses' have been revised downwards due to a change in treatment of dwellings that were 'Other and non-classifiable'.

Homeless and staying temporarily in other households

The 17,725 homeless persons staying as visitors temporarily in other households and who reported no usual address accounted for 15% of the homeless population in 2016. This group includes homeless people staying as visitors with friends and relatives and people who were homeless in 'visitor only' households where none of the persons present on Census night usually lived in that dwelling.

This visitor homeless group reflects the average male to female ratio of all homeless people in 2016 (59% to 41%), and while younger than the boarding house population, is older than either the supported accommodation or severely crowded groups (39% of this homeless group were aged over 45 years and older).

As noted in the introduction, some groups, in particular youth, those escaping domestic and family violence and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are likely to be underestimated in this category of homelessness because, despite being unable to return to their nominal 'home', they may still report it as their usual address. Therefore having reported a usual address means they cannot be distinguished from people who were visitors on Census night and who were not homeless.

Improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out

There were 8,200 homeless people in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out in 2016, 20% higher than in 2011. The biggest increase was in New South Wales, up 35% (664 persons) to 2,588 persons in 2016, when compared to 1,924 persons in 2011.

Males are over represented in this homeless group (66%), yet female representation has increased 1.2% nationally since 2011. The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons in this group (27%) has increased since 2011 (25%). This is higher than in the proportion of the total homeless population (20%), and significantly higher than the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons in the Australian population (3%).

In 2016, the number of youth (aged 12–24 years) living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out decreased nationally by 121 persons (13%). The number of older homeless persons (aged 55 years and over) in this operational group increased nationally by 486 persons (34%), increasing in all States and Territories except Tasmania, with New South Wales the main contributor, up 242 persons (63%). The next youngest cohort, those aged 45–54 years, has increased nationally by 400 persons (29%) with New South Wales the main contributor.

States and territories

In 2016, the rate of estimated homeless persons in New South Wales increased by 27% to 50 homeless persons per 10,000 persons compared to 40 homeless persons per 10,000 persons in 2011.

Tasmania had the lowest rate of homelessness at 32 person per 10,000 persons, while Queensland, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory had rates ranging from 40 to 46 homeless persons per 10,000 persons.

Table 1.2 Rate of homeless persons per 10,000 of the population, by state and territory of usual residence - 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 (a)

States and Territories200120062011 (b)2016
New South Wales
36.4
33.9
39.7
50.4
Victoria
38.9
35.3
41.7
41.9
Queensland
54.8
48.3
43.9
46.1
South Australia
39.8
37.0
36.4
37.1
Western Australia
53.6
42.3
41.0
36.4
Tasmania
27.5
24.0
31.0
31.8
Northern Territory
904.4
791.7
723.3
599.4
Australian Capital Territory
30.4
29.3
48.7
40.2
Australia
50.8
45.2
47.6
49.8
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. Homeless estimates from 2011 for the category 'Persons living in boarding houses' have been revised.
 

In the Northern Territory, 81% of the homeless population were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings in 2016. Severe crowding in the other states and territories ranged between 16% in Tasmania to 45% in New South Wales. Compared to other states and territories, Northern Territory also had a high rate of homeless persons in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out at 48 per 10,000 persons. The next highest rates were in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales (each 4 per 10,000 persons).

The rates of persons in supported accommodation for the homeless were highest in the Northern Territory (28 persons per 10,000 persons) followed by the Australian Capital Territory (20 persons per 10,000 persons). The rates in supported accommodation were lower in the other jurisdictions, ranging from 4 persons per 10,000 in Western Australia to 12 in Victoria.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples made up 3% of the Australian population in 2016. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples accounted for 20% (23,437 persons) (down from 26% in 2011) of all persons who were homeless on Census night in 2016. Of those who were classified as homeless, 70% (down from 75% in 2011) were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings, 12% were in supported accommodation for the homeless and 9% were in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out. For non-Indigenous homeless persons, 42% were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings, 15% were in supported accommodation, and 6% were in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out. The proportion of persons who did not state their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status increased to 10% (12,217 persons) of all persons who were homeless on Census night in 2016, up from 7% (7,651 persons) in 2011.

The estimate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons who were homeless on Census night is likely to be an underestimate, particularly for those staying temporarily with other households, reflecting both a relatively large underenumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons in the Census compared to the total population and because for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons a usual address may be reported that is associated with a 'place' rather than with a home or dwelling. For further information see the Methodology page of this publication.

Youth

Youth can refer to persons 12 to 18 years or 12 to 24 years of age.

Most of the homeless youth aged 12–18 years in 2016 were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings (61%) or in supported accommodation for the homeless (26%). While 7% of homeless persons aged 12 to 18 years were staying temporarily with other households, this proportion increases to 12% for youth aged 19–24 years.

More generally, in 2016, 59% of homeless youth aged 12–24 years were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings and 18% were in supported accommodation for the homeless. While 9% of homeless persons aged 12–24 years were living in boarding houses, and 10% of homeless persons aged 12–24 years were staying temporarily with other households.

Youth aged 12–24 years made up 32% of total homeless persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings, 23% of persons in supported accommodation for the homeless and 15% of persons living in boarding houses in 2016.

The proportion of persons classified as homeless who are aged 12–24 years are consistent across the States and Territories, ranging from 26% in both Victoria and Northern Territory to 21% in Queensland and Western Australia.

Older persons

Older persons (aged 55 years and over) made up 16% (18,625 persons) of the total homeless population in 2016. Older persons are the only age cohort where persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings is not the operational group with the highest population. For older persons, most are living in boarding houses (27%), followed by staying temporarily in other households (24%).

Males accounted for 63% of older persons who were homeless on Census night in 2016, increasing by 26% (2,407 persons) to 11,757 in 2016. The number of older homeless females increased by 31% to 6,866 in 2016, up from 5,234 persons in 2011.

In 2016, older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons accounted for 8% of all homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons .

Disability

For the Census, people with a profound or severe disability are defined as those people needing help or assistance in one or more of the three core activity areas of self-care, mobility and communication, because of a disability, long-term health condition (lasting six months or more) or old age.

As in 2011 and 2006, 5% of homeless persons in 2016 indicated they needed help or assistance in one or more of the three core activity areas. The proportion of persons requiring help or assistance in core activities who were classified as living in 'improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out' is very low (3%), however as some persons sleeping rough (approximately 4,330 persons) were enumerated using the Special Short Form, which is a shortened version of the Census form, they were not asked about this data item and may not reflect the situation of persons in this group.

Culturally and linguistically diverse

People who were born overseas and arrived in Australia in the five years prior to Census accounted for 15% (17,749 persons) of all persons who were estimated to be homeless on Census night in 2016. Males (60%) were over represented in this homeless group compared to the total homeless population. The majority (79%) of homeless persons from culturally and linguistically diverse background, were aged 12–34 years.

Of the homeless people who were born overseas and arrived in Australia in the five years prior to Census, 12% were born In India, 10% in China, 6% in Afghanistan, 5% in Pakistan and 4% in Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia.

In 2016, 74% or 13,088 persons who were born overseas and arrived in Australia in the last five years were living in 'severely' crowded dwellings and 13% (2,350 persons) were living in boarding houses.

Marginally housed and at risk of homelessness

People who were not classified as being homeless on Census night but were living in some form of marginal housing and may be at risk of homelessness are people whose living arrangements are close to the statistical boundary of homelessness. The number of persons in other improvised dwellings increased between 2011 and 2016, up 20% to 5,401 persons, the number of persons marginally housed in caravan parks fell, down 18% to 10,685 persons in 2016, while the number of persons living in other crowded dwellings requiring three extra bedrooms according to the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS) jumped 33% to 80,877 in 2016.

As in 2011 and 2006, for the marginally housed population living in other crowded dwellings the rate in 2016 was highest in the Northern Territory with 223 per 10,000 persons followed by New South Wales (43) and Victoria (33).

Table 1.3 Persons living in other crowded dwellings, rate per 10,000 of the population - 2016

States and Territories2016
New South Wales
43.5
Victoria
33.4
Queensland
26.6
South Australia
22.7
Western Australia
23.4
Tasmania
13.2
Northern Territory
223.4
Australian Capital Territory
17.7
Australia
34.6
 

References

Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (2008) The Road Home. A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness, FaHCSIA, Canberra.

Department of Human Services Victoria (2002) Victorian Homelessness Strategy: Action Plan and Strategic Framework, Victoria, Melbourne.

Introduction

This publication presents estimates of the prevalence of homelessness from the 2016 Census of Population and Housing together with selected estimates from 2001, 2006 and 2011 published for comparison. More detailed estimates for 2011 were published in Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011 (cat. no. 2049.0), and more detailed estimates for 2001 and 2006 were published in Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness, 2006 (cat. no. 2049.0).

Estimates of homelessness from the 2016 Census use the same methodology as previously applied in compiling the 2001, 2006 and 2011 estimates. An overview of the methodology applied is presented in 'Appendix 2: Estimation Methodology', available from the Methodology page of this publication. For more information, see the Information Paper - Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing, 2012 (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) definition of homelessness is explained in 'Appendix 1: Definition of Homelessness', available from the 'Explanatory Notes' section of the Methodology page. For more information on the definition see the Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0).

Acknowledgements

The ABS would like to acknowledge and give thanks to the following stakeholders who assisted in peer reviewing the homelessness estimates, and to the members of the Homelessness Statistics Reference Group (HSRG) for their contributions and commitment to the process of analysing, understanding and reporting on homelessness in Australia.

  • Anglicare WA
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  • Barwon South West Homelessness Network
  • Council to Homeless Persons
  • Department of Communities (Government of Western Australia)
  • Department of Family & Community Services (New South Wales Government)
  • Department of Housing and Community Development (Northern Territory Government)
  • Department of Health and Human Services (Victoria State Government)
  • Department of Health and Human Services (Tasmanian Government)
  • Department of Housing and Public Works (Queensland Government)
  • Department of Social Services (Australian Government)
  • Housing ACT (ACT Government)
  • Housing SA (Department for Communities and Social Inclusion, Government of South Australia)
  • Micah Projects Ltd
  • Mission Australia
  • North & West Homelessness Networks, Victoria
  • NT Shelter Inc.
  • RMIT University (Unison Housing Research Laboratory)
  • Sera's Women's Shelter Inc.
  • Shelter Tasmania Inc.
  • Swinburne University of Technology (Department of Social Science)
  • Uniting


The HSRG have endorsed the 2016 Census homelessness estimates. The HRSG also acknowledge that whilst the Census homelessness estimates provide the most comprehensive count of people experiencing homelessness across Australia, there are methodological limitations. The HSRG supports the ABS' continuing efforts to evaluate and improve the accuracy of Census homelessness estimates.

Youth homelessness

Although youth are over-represented in the homeless population, homeless estimates for youth are likely to have been underestimated in the Census due to a usual address being reported for some homeless youth. 

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'. 

ABS has not yet 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 derivable from Census data do not concord with their knowledge about youth homelessness.

Guided by its Homelessness Statistics Reference Group, the ABS is continuing to undertake research and development to improve the estimation of homelessness, including youth homelessness.

Until a robust methodology is developed to measure the level of youth homelessness, ABS will focus on producing transparent, consistent and repeatable estimates that can be used to monitor change over time. As 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.

For more information on the definition of homelessness or the methodology for estimating homelessness from the Census see the Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0) and Information Paper - Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing, 2012 (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).

Overcrowding

People living in crowded dwellings represent a continuum within the scope of those who are marginally housed. In the context of the elements developed for the ABS definition of homelessness, people living in 'severely' crowded dwellings are considered to be homeless because they do not have control of, or access to space for social relations. In 'severely' crowded dwellings inhabitants are generally unable to pursue social relations, or have personal (i.e. family or small group) living space, or maintain privacy, nor do different family / groups within the dwelling have exclusive access to kitchen facilities and a bathroom. In such circumstances, if people had accommodation alternatives it would be expected that they would have exercised them.

There are many situations of overcrowding which do not threaten the health and safety of the occupants. For example, the overcrowding may be slight, or for a short period of time. However, severe and sustained overcrowding can put the health and safety of the occupants at risk. 

'Persons living in severely crowded dwellings' are considered to be in the sixth ABS homeless group. Severely crowded conditions are operationalised in the Census as living in a dwelling which requires 4 or more extra bedrooms to accommodate the people who usually live there, as defined by the Canadian National Occupancy Standard (CNOS).

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.

Operationalisation using Census data for overcrowding as homelessness at this severe level of 4 or more extra bedrooms is designed to prevent the misclassification of people as homeless who may choose to live together under some crowding to save money, to be close to family or for other reasons. In addition, it also takes account of the limitation of the Census household form which only seeks relationship information within the household in relation to 'person 1', as well as child relationships to 'person 2'. This limitation of Census family coding results in misclassification of family relationships, particularly for large households with complex family relationships or households which contain multiple families, or where persons are temporarily absent. Households that look like crowded group households in the Census may actually include a number of couples. Under CNOS a single adult requires their own bedroom but a couple can share a bedroom, and the masking of relationships can inflate the crowding measure.

Persons living in other crowded dwellings are usual residents living in dwellings reported in the Census requiring 3 extra bedrooms to accommodate them according to the CNOS. Under the operationalisation of the ABS definition they are not classified as homeless but are considered to be in marginal housing and may be at risk of homelessness. The ABS presents estimates of marginal housing from the Census, including persons living in other crowded dwellings alongside estimates of homelessness.

For more information on the definition of homelessness or the methodology for estimating homelessness from the Census see the Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0) and the Information Paper: Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing, 2012 (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).

Domestic and family violence

Domestic and family violence is a significant cause of homelessness and personal safety is a concern for people who are subject to, or fleeing domestic and family violence.

Under the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) homelessness definition, a person displaced from their home due to domestic violence becomes homeless if they have a temporary living situation and do not have access to accommodation alternatives that are secure, safe and adequate (and the home in which they were subject to domestic violence is not considered a safe alternative accommodation to their homeless situation).

A person experiencing the violence who remains in their unsafe home with the perpetrator, could be considered to lack control of and access to social relations. However, assessing these situations in a measurement context is very difficult, and the ABS definition currently excludes such situations from its definition of homelessness and characterises their living situation as being precarious or unstable and being at risk of homelessness.

The ABS recognise the difficulties in both enumerating people who are displaced from their home due to domestic and/or family violence in the Census of Population and Housing, and in classifying all of those that are enumerated correctly as either homeless or not homeless 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.

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 a 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 can not 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.

The ABS have worked with its Homelessness Statistics Reference Group members to look to ways to both improve the enumeration of these homeless people in the Census as well as developing alternative sources of information such as the Personal Safety Survey. The Personal Safety Survey collects information on people who left a violent current or previous partner and whether they 'couch surfed', slept rough, stayed in a shelter etc. This provides an indication of what accommodation was used by people the last time they separated from their violent partner/s is an important source of information about homelessness and domestic violence.

As part of the development for Census 2021, the ABS will consider how they can improve the enumeration of, and the identification as homeless of those who were fleeing domestic and/or family violence in the Census. However the ABS recognise the need to use other data sources to gain a more complete picture of homelessness.

For more information on the definition of homelessness or the methodology for estimating homelessness from the Census see the Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0) and the Information Paper: Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing, 2012 (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelessness

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) definition of homelessness has been developed for application to the general population in Australia. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented in the measures of homelessness developed with this definition, there are likely to be additional aspects to homelessness from a Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' perspective that the definition does not currently adequately capture. 

In recognition of the differences in understanding of the concepts of home and homelessness in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples context, the ABS continues to undertake further research regarding how the ABS statistical definition of homelessness may be understood in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples context. ABS undertook community engagement activities to identify different perspectives of home and homelessness, and findings were published in the Discussion Paper: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Perspectives on Homelessness, 2013 (cat. no. 4735.0). These were then mapped to the ABS statistical definition for the purpose of informing the interpretation of current measures of homelessness in Information Paper: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Perspectives on Homelessness, 2014 (cat. no. 4736.0).

Additionally, the ABS developed a culturally appropriate module on previous experiences of homelessness suitable for inclusion in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014–15 (NATSISS) (cat. no. 4714.0) which can be compared to estimates from the total population from the General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2014 (cat. no. 4159.0).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been underenumerated in the Census and therefore, estimates of homelessness based on Census data will be an underestimation. In the 2016 Census, the underenumeration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was 17.5%. Some of those who were underenumerated may have been homeless at the time of the Census. Underestimation of homelessness among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population enumerated in the Census may occur as 'incorrect' information regarding 'usual residence' may have been provided which masks their homelessness. 

Perceptions of homelessness from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people indicate that some people who would not consider their current living circumstances as homeless, would be classified as homeless under a statistical measure, although this is also likely to be the case for some non-Indigenous people. Examples of this include people sleeping on the land or in an improvised dwelling in order to be connected to country and/or connected to family or community. Whilst these people have no alternative accommodation, they may not perceive themselves to be homeless and would not seek out homelessness services, yet will be included in Census homelessness estimates. In contrast, there were situations where a person would see themselves as homeless but would not be classified as such under the definition, such as a person who felt disconnected from their country and/or family or community but was living in an otherwise adequate dwelling. These issues should be considered when interpreting existing measures of homelessness from the Census.

Additionally, it is debated in the literature whether the concept of 'no usual address' is appropriate for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Morphy (2007) discusses the problems in defining a 'usual resident' and 'visitor' in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 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 the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. This issue will impact on Census based estimates of homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enumerated in the Census who are classified as being in the categories for 'improvised dwellings, tents, or sleepers out' or 'persons staying temporarily with other households' while homeless.

As part of the development for Census 2021, the ABS will consider how they can improve the identification of homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Census but recognise the need to use other data sources to gain a more complete picture of homelessness.

For more information on the variable 'Indigenous Status (INGP)' see the section 'Understanding the data' in the publication Census of Population and Housing: Understanding the Census and Census Data, Australia, 2016 (cat. no. 2900.0)

For more information on the definition of homelessness or the methodology for estimating homelessness from the Census see the Information Paper - A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0) and the Information Paper: Methodology for Estimating Homelessness from the Census of Population and Housing, 2012 (cat. no. 2049.0.55.001).

References

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 ANU, Canberra

Chamberlain, C and MacKenzie, D (2008) Australian Census Analytic Program: Counting the Homeless 2006 (cat. no. 2050.0) Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Data downloads

Census of Population and Housing: estimating homelessness, 2016

List of tables

1.1 - Homeless persons, selected characteristics, 2001, 2006, 2011 And 2016

1.2 - Persons In other marginal housing, selected characteristics, 2001, 2006, 2011 And 2016 

24/07/2018 The number Of 'Total persons' in 2016 for the two Other marginal housing groups: ' Persons living In other crowded dwellings' and ' Persons in other improvised dwellings' have been revised.

1.3 - State and territory of usual residence, number of homeless persons, by selected characteristics, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016

1.4 - State and territory of usual residence, proportion of homeless persons, by selected characteristics, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016

1.5 - State and territory of usual residence, rate of homeless persons per 10,000 of the population, by selected characteristics, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016

1.6 - State and territory of usual residence, number of homeless persons, homeless operational groups by selected characteristics, 2016

1.7 - State and territory of usual residence, rate of homeless persons per 10,000 of the population, homeless operational groups by selected characteristics, 2016

1.8 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, number of persons, by selected characteristics, 2016

1.9 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, proportion of persons, by selected characteristics, 2016

1.10 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, number of persons aged 15 years and over, by selected characteristics, 2016

1.11 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, proportion of persons aged 15 years and over, by selected characteristics, 2016

1.12 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, sex by age of person, 2016

1.13 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, rate per 10,000 of the population, 2016

1.14 - Homeless persons staying temporarily with other households, visited dwelling characteristics, 2016

1.15 - Homeless persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings, selected dwelling characteristics, 2016

24/07/2018 The 'Improvised home, tent, sleepers out' and 'House or flat attached to a shop, office, etc.' category labels presented in the Dwelling structure variable were incorrectly ordered compared to the estimates, and have been amended.

State and territory of usual residence, all persons

List of tables

2.1 - Total population, all persons by selected characteristics, 2016

2.2 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, New South Wales, by selected characteristics, 2016

2.3 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Victoria, by selected characteristics, 2016

2.4 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Queensland, by selected characteristics, 2016

24/07/2018 the number of persons classified to the category 'Under 12' in the 'Age groups (years)' variable have been revised.

2.5 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, South Australia, by selected characteristics, 2016

2.6 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Western Australia, by selected characteristics, 2016

2.7 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Tasmania, by selected characteristics, 2016

2.8 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Northern Territory, by selected characteristics, 2016
24/07/2018 The number of persons classified to the category 'Other' in the 'Educational attendance' variable have been revised.

2.9 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Australian Capital Territory, by selected characteristics, 2016

24/07/2018 The number of persons classified to the category 'Other' in the 'Educational attendance' variable have been revised.

State and territory of usual residence, persons aged 15 years and over

List of tables

3.1 - Total persons aged 15 years and over, by selected characteristics, 2016

3.2 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, New South Wales–persons aged 15 years and over by selected characteristics, 2016

3.3 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Victoria–persons aged 15 years and over by selected characteristics, 2016

3.4 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Queensland–persons aged 15 years and over by selected characteristics, 2016

3.5 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, South Australia–persons aged 15 years and over by selected characteristics, 2016

3.6 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Western Australia–persons aged 15 years and over by selected characteristics, 2016

3.7 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Tasmania–persons aged 15 years and over by selected characteristics, 2016

3.8 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Northern Territory–persons aged 15 years and over by selected characteristics, 2016

3.9 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Australian Capital Territory–persons aged 15 years and over by selected characteristics, 2016

State and territory of usual residence, sex by age of person

List of tables

4.1 - Total population, sex by age of person–2016

4.2 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, New South Wales–sex by age of person–2016

4.3 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Victoria–sex by age of person–2016

4.4 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Queensland–sex by age of person–2016

4.5 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, South Australia–sex by age of person–2016

4.6 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Western Australia–sex by age of person–2016

4.7 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Tasmania–sex by age of person–2016

4.8 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Northern Territory–sex by age of person–2016

4.9 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Australian Capital Territory–sex by age of person–2016

State and territory by place of enumeration, Statistical Area Level 2, 3 and 4

List of tables

5.1 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, by place of enumeration, Statistical Area Level 3 and 4, 2016

5.2 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, by place of enumeration, Statistical Area Level 3 and 4, 2011

5.3 - All homeless persons, by place of enumeration, Statistical Area Level 2, 2016

5.4 - All homeless persons, by place of enumeration, Statistical Area Level 2, 2011

State and territory by place of enumeration, Local Government Area

List of tables

6.1 - All homeless persons, by place of enumeration, Local Government Area, 2016

6.2 - All homeless persons, by place of enumeration, Local Government Area, 2011

State and territory by place of enumeration, Remoteness Areas

List of tables

7.1 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Remoteness Areas by state and territory of place of enumeration, 2016

7.2 - Homeless operational groups and other marginal housing, Remoteness Areas by state and territory of place of enumeration, 2011

All data cubes

History of changes

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24/07/2018 - Replacement content release - this replacement content contains corrected data and minor formatting changes in Data Cube 1: Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness, 2016 and Data Cube 2: State and territory of usual residence, All persons.

17/04/2018 - Additional content release - this additional content contains Data Cube 8: State and territory by place of enumeration, Remoteness Areas and a List of Tables. Additional chapters on Disability and Mental Heath and Older Persons will be released in mid-2018.

29/03/2018 - Replacement content release - this replacement content contains corrected data and minor corrections to wording and formatting in the Key findings.

16/03/2018 - Additional content release - this additional content contains the Quality declaration - summary.

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 2049.0.