2006 Census: Homeless People

The 2006 Census Homeless Strategy

Homelessness is a complex issue: homeless people are not only people living on the streets, but includes people living in refuges and in certain other accommodation types such as private hotel. Australia is the only country that attempts to assess the level of homelessness using census data.

The Homeless People Enumeration Strategy involves a range of approaches which recognise and address social and cultural barriers to counting homeless people. The strategy also emphasises Census awareness activities aimed at encouraging homeless people to participate in the Census. The ABS ensures Privacy and Confidentiality of everyone's Census information.

Definitions of homelessness

The ABS does not have a definition of homelessness. A definition proposed by Chamberlain and MacKenzie (1992) divides homeless people into 3 broad sectors: primary, secondary and tertiary homeless.

1. Absolute homeless (primary homeless): People without conventional accommodation (living on the streets, in deserted buildings, improvised dwellings, in parks, etc.).

2. Relative homeless (secondary and tertiary homeless): People staying in boarding houses, people using Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) and other similar emergency accommodation services, or people with no secure accommodation staying temporarily with friends or relatives in private dwellings.

Data analysis on homeless people

The academic report, Counting the Homeless 2006 (ABS cat.no. 2050.0), by Chamberlain and MacKenzie, is based on 2006 Census data and two other key datasets. Currently the information collected from the Census in itself is not sufficient as to be able to provide homeless counts. Figures in the report are compiled using complex analyses and a range of Census variables, and incorporating other key data sources. The results are published in the Australian Census Analytic Program: Counting the Homeless, 2006 (cat. no. 2050.0).

How can an organisation assist the ABS to provide an accurate count of homeless people?

For Absolute Homeless

The ABS has developed procedures for counting homeless people without a conventional "roof" over their heads. Interviewers use a shortened version of the Census form to record details from individuals.

In the lead up to the 2006 Census, ABS staff from state and territory offices contacted groups providing services for these homeless to identify sites where homeless people were likely to be located. People who work with homeless people, and even homeless people themselves, were recruited and trained by the ABS to be interviewers.

For Relative Homeless

In the lead up to the 2006 Census, ABS staff from state and territory offices contacted groups providing services for these homeless to discuss the best ways to count homeless people staying temporarily in accommodation for homeless people. In large establishments such as boarding houses, persons working within the accommodation were recruited to assist with the Census.

Organisations were also advised to promote the need for homeless people to write "NONE" for the question "Where does the person usually live?" on their Census form. This was especially important for homeless people staying temporarily in accommodation such as in the homes of friends or family, or in hotels or motels. This enabled homeless people staying temporarily in places not categorised as providing homeless accommodation to be included in the homeless count.