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(Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012a)
Homelessness may be the cause of, or the result of disadvantage and social exclusion. And disadvantage and social exclusion may persist even after a person is no longer homeless.
Effectively targeting policies and services, monitoring progress and understanding outcomes for those who are or have been homeless, requires transparent, consistent and relatable statistics. However, people who are homeless are among the hardest population to collect statistics from. The ABS has developed a program of social statistics on homelessness that includes, but is not limited to, the development of prevalence measures from the five yearly Census of Population and Housing and through longitudinal linkage to report on outcomes of and pathways into homelessness; reporting previous experiences of homelessness through household surveys such as the General Social Survey, and the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers; and experiences of homelessness for people who leave a violent partner through the Personal Safety Survey.
Comparable quality statistics, over time and across data sources, require a clear conceptual framework and definition to underpin the operationalisation of that definition in multiple collections, including fine tuning those datasets for that purpose.
The ABS Information Paper: A Statistical Definition of Homelessness (cat. no. 4922.0) outlines the ABS' statistical definition of homelessness which will underpin all ABS statistics on homelessness.
This methodology Information Paper presents the ABS methodology for estimating the prevalence of homelessness using data from the ABS Census of Population and Housing, based on the ABS statistical definition. A summary of the definition is provided in Chapter 3 of this methodology publication.
Not all dimensions of the ABS definition of homelessness can be operationalised in all data collections. This publication therefore also reports on the limitations of using Census data to estimate the prevalence of homelessness for some populations such as youth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and persons fleeing domestic or family violence.
Notwithstanding the limitations of any methodology that might be applied to estimate homelessness from the Census, the ABS methodology does provide estimates of people enumerated in the Census who were most likely to have been homeless on Census night that can be compared over time to track increases or decreases in homelessness. These estimates also report on the characteristics and living arrangements of those who were most likely to have been homeless on Census night.
The ABS will publish an Information Paper: Guide to Homelessness Statistics (cat. no. 4923.0) in November 2012 to assist users with analysing not just estimates compiled from the Census but also from other available data sources to obtain a more complete picture of homelessness. The guide will outline which parts of the homeless definition ABS collections can, or cannot capture.
The ABS methodology for producing official estimates of homelessness using Census data was developed in consultation with the ABS' Homelessness Statistics Reference Group (HSRG) and builds on the ABS review of the methodology developed by Professors Chamberlain and MacKenzie for their estimates of homelessness that used both Census and other data sources. The review findings, and the consultation process including discussion forums in all capital cities and submissions from a wide range of interested parties, are described in 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).
The ABS will publish final official homeless estimates from the 2006 and 2001 Censuses on 12 September 2012 in the publication: Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness, 2006 (cat. no. 2049.0). Estimates from the 2011 Census will be published in November under the same catalogue number.
Because of both the complexity of homelessness and the degree of uncertainty when using Census data to estimate homelessness, there are a wide range of views on the best practical approximations of homelessness that can be compiled from Census data. While the ABS has benefited from expert advice, there are areas where it was not possible to obtain agreement among all experts. In these circumstances, the ABS has balanced the views of different experts and decided, from a statistical perspective, what the most appropriate methodology needs to be to deliver both transparency and consistency for measuring change over time. The ABS acknowledges that there will continue to be differences of views on methodology, and in producing official statistics on homelessness from the Census, so the data are presented in detail to allow users to see the components that have been included in the estimates. The ABS intends to present the information in such a way that alternative methodologies may be applied.