2049.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016 Quality Declaration 
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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 'Explanatory Notes' tab 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 'Explanatory Notes' tab 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' section of this publication 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 'Explanatory Notes' tab 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 Territories
2001
2006
2011 (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 'Explanatory Notes' section 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 Territories
2016

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.