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2050.0.55.002 - Position Paper - ABS Review of Counting the Homeless Methodology, Aug 2011  
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Contents >> Contents >> Key issues: Homelessness and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

KEY ISSUES: HOMELESSNESS AND ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLES

SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were under-enumerated in the 2001 and 2006 Censuses. As Indigenous people are over-represented in the reviewed Census based estimates of homelessness, the ABS has noted that their under-enumeration in the 2001 and 2006 Censuses would contribute to the underestimation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the homeless population.
  • The ABS recognises that cultural interpretations of the 'usual address' question by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the use of different collection forms in enumerating some Indigenous people, will affect the capacity of analysts to classify as homeless some Indigenous people enumerated in the Census who may have been experiencing primary homelessness or staying temporarily with other households because they had nowhere else to live.
  • The ABS activities for the 2011 Census aim to improve enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians through involvement with Indigenous communities and services, in addition to education awareness strategies and the application of new procedures to improve the enumeration of Census forms.
  • The ABS will investigate, including through community focus groups, later in the year, the development of a culturally appropriate module to collect previous experiences of homelessness in the 2014 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, in line with what has been collected in the 2010 General Social Survey. Expert input will be sought from both the Homelessness Statistics Reference Group and from the Advisory Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics to ensure the module is culturally appropriate to the context of homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


INTRODUCTION

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented in homeless statistics. Whilst comprising only 2.3% of the total Australian population, the Review found that 6,655 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the 2006 Census dataset were classified as homeless (or 10% of all 63,469 homeless persons). However, Indigenous status is not reported for a significant proportion of those who were classified as homeless (14%). If those people for whom Indigenous status was not provided are excluded from the calculation, Indigenous people make up 12% of the reviewed estimates of homeless people, which is 5 times the proportion of the total population that is of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin.

Of those Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who were classified as homeless in the Review, the majority were enumerated in either supported accommodation (40%) or in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out (31%), with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians less likely than other Australians to be staying temporarily with other households (13%), or in boarding houses (13%), or in other temporary lodgings (2%).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also over-represented in the administrative data on SAAP support periods. In 2006-07, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians accounted for 18.4% of clients for all support periods (AIHW 2008). In the Reviewed estimate, when excluding non-response for Indigenous status, 18.6% of people in supported accommodation for the homeless on Census night where identified as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.


UNDER-ENUMERATION OF ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PEOPLE

As outlined in the Discussion Paper: Methodological Review of Counting the Homeless, 2006 (ABS cat. no. 2050.0.55.001), the under-enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Census would mean that it would also be expected that Indigenous Australians who were homeless at the time of the Census are also likely to be underestimated.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were under-enumerated in the past two Censuses, by 11.5% and 6.1% in 2006 and 2001 respectively (Census of Population and Housing – Details of Undercount, ABS cat. no. 2940.0), however there is no way to quantify the size of the homeless who may not have been enumerated. The enumeration is complicated in Northern Australia because the Census occurs when a number of cultural events are held which result in some Indigenous people being highly mobile while Census enumeration is occurring. Events such as rodeos, 'Motherhood' and Arnhem land festivals occur during Census field work. In some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities the enumeration in past Censuses has occurred over some weeks to address the complexities in locating people due to increased internal mobility in Northern Australia at this time. Many people may be enumerated as visitors away from their usual residence or community during the Census. The ABS works closely with Indigenous communities to try to enumerate all people during the Census, and undertakes a special Indigenous enumeration strategy to maximise the enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The ABS has expanded its Indigenous enumeration strategy since 2006 in order to reduce the under-enumeration of these populations.


CULTURAL INTERPRETATIONS OF HOMELESSNESS: QUESTIONING THE APPROPRIATENESS OF 'PLACE OF USUAL RESIDENCE'

As discussed in detail in Chapter 7 of the Discussion paper, although most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are enumerated in the Census, one of the key variables used in classifying someone as homeless in the Census dataset is the reporting of 'no usual address'. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may not necessarily define homelessness as a lack of accommodation, but as a multi-dimensional concept that includes people at risk, those sleeping in public spaces out of need or want, and spiritual homelessness as a result of dissociation from land and cultural isolation (Memmott, Long, Chambers, and Spring 2004).

It is debated in the literature whether the concept of 'no usual address' is appropriate for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Morphy (2007) discusses the problems in defining a 'usual resident' and 'visitor' in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, as the distinction between 'my country / not my country' is more salient than the distinction between 'resident / visitor'.

In the 2006 Census, 0.35% of all persons who were reported as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians were also reported as having no usual address, compared to 0.20% for non-Indigenous Australians. In the reviewed homeless estimates, 19% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were reported as having no usual address. However, the low proportion of homeless Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians who were reported as staying with other households (13%) compared to non-Indigenous people (34%), suggests that reporting no usual address is under-reported for Indigenous people.

Several submissions to the review expressed concern about the low numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians reported as homeless and staying with other households, agreeing with the ABS Discussion Paper's view that overcrowding in Indigenous households may be masking some homelessness in this population.


2011 CENSUS ENUMERATION IMPROVEMENTS

The 2011 Census is a 'minimum change' Census: no new topics have been added and no existing topics have been changed. The interviewer household form for 2011 is essentially the same as for 2006. In particular, it has the same usual address question and instructions, and the same dwelling structure categories of 'caravan, tin shed or cabin' and 'humpy, tent or sleepout' that are included on the collector record book (see Chapter 7 of the Discussion Paper for more detail). This will mean that in communities where the interviewer household form is used, it is likely that few, if any, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people will be reported as having no usual address.

However, changes have been made to the Census procedures for 2011 to improve the enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Getting a better count of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will mean that more Indigenous people will be reflected in the Census records rather than being missing, which will improve the capacity to look for and understand potential homelessness.

One of the procedural changes for the 2011 Census is a change to how the interviewer household form is administered and processed. In past Censuses, persons temporarily absent from their usual dwelling on Census night were enumerated wherever they were located on Census night. On the interviewer household form for the dwelling where any Indigenous person was absent on Census night, only the name and the variables for age and sex were collected, but with extra detail on where the absent person might be, and the reasons for their absence. This was to assist with controlling for potential undercount.

An improvement to the interviewer household form for Indigenous communities is being implemented for the 2011 Census. The 2011 form will collect, from each household in a community, all Census variables for both visitors and for any usual resident, regardless of whether or not that usual resident is at home on Census night. Respondents will also be asked to report, for any usual resident who is temporarily absent: where they are expected to be staying on Census night; why they are away; and when they will be back. Persons may be reported as being in another dwelling in the same community, staying in another Indigenous community where the interviewer household form is used, or staying elsewhere.

The ABS has implemented procedures tailored to the enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in discrete communities, since the 1976 Census. The 2011 Census procedures build on the experience developed through the 2006 Census Indigenous Enumeration Strategy. Procedures will be tailored in response to the requirements of each Indigenous community.

In most Indigenous communities, an interview form designed to be appropriate to Indigenous culture is used where there is a need due to cultural or language barriers. Where possible, Census field supervisors recruit, train and work with people from the community to manage the enumeration and conduct the interviews.

In urban and regional areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are enumerated using standard mainstream procedures and forms. Special collectors skilled in Indigenous languages and culture are available to assist in these areas if required. Special workloads will also use an interview approach which aims to increase data quality and response rates.

The ABS Indigenous Enumeration Strategy for this Census was developed in consultation with a range of organisations and government departments at all levels. This strategy describes procedures which allow for potential barriers, caused by cultural factors, to the effective enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be addressed. The strategy provides procedures to cover the enumeration of:
  • nominated discrete Indigenous communities; and
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households in urban and rural areas.

Part of the ABS Indigenous Enumeration Strategy is the employment of local people to assist in the enumeration of nominated Indigenous communities, with local managers or in some areas teams of staff to manage the enumeration. In urban areas with high Indigenous populations, Collectors will provide greater levels of support than in the past by offering to conduct an interview, with Special Collectors available to assist in other areas.

The communication aspects of the ABS Indigenous Enumeration Strategy include paid media advertising, a program of consultation with community leaders, briefings for representatives of Indigenous media outlets, use of posters and leaflets specifically designed for Indigenous communities, and the dissemination of information about the Census.

The improved enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will improve the estimation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were homeless on Census night.


FUTURE DIRECTIONS

The ABS will utilise experts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelessness to identify what improvements may be possible to classify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be homeless but report a usual address. The ABS will build on this expertise to identify what improvements can be made for the 2016 Census in the enumeration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. However, it is important to recognise that it will be difficult to accurately classify all homeless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for the reasons outlined above.

The ABS is also looking for other information to better inform on Indigenous homelessness. The ABS proposes to develop and test a module on the previous experiences of homelessness for use in the 2014 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS). This module would be in line with the module used in the 2010 General Social Survey. Expert input will be sought from both the Homelessness Statistics Reference Group and from the Advisory Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics to ensure the module is culturally appropriate to the context of homelessness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

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