Defining the Problem of Homelessness
For Labor, access to safe and secure housing is fundamental to our idea of a just society. The existence of homelessness therefore is an indicator of social injustice which must eliminated. To develop policy to address the issue requires first a definition and measurement of the problem. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Census of Population and Housing, the number of homeless persons in Australia increased by 13.7% between 2011 and 2016, rising from 102,439 persons to 116,427 persons.
Under the ABS Definition, (Australian Bureau of Statistics , 2016) a person is homeless if they do not have suitable accommodation alternatives and their current living arrangement:
- is a dwelling that is inadequate (Adequacy); or
- has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable (Security); or
- does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations (Control).
- places the person in circumstances that threaten or adversely affect the adequacy, safety, security and affordability of that housing.
Undepinning The Definition
In discussing the concept of homelessness underpinning this definition, the ABS recognises that access to accommodation alternatives ‘is contingent on having the financial, physical, psychological and personal means to access these alternatives’ .
The challenges associated with the statistical measurement of homelessness in contemporary society have been discussed by the ABS in an Information Paper – A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0) . In response, the ABS has developed six homeless operational groups for presenting estimates of people who were likely to have been homeless on Census night. These groups are:
- Persons living in improvised dwellings, tents, or sleeping out;
- Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless;
- Persons staying temporarily with other households;
- Persons living in boarding houses;
- Persons in other temporary lodgings; and
- Persons living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings.
- The definition is accordingly wider than those persons without a roof over their head on census night.
- The following table presents the time series of homelessness estimates for the six homeless operational groups for 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016.
It will be seen that rough sleepers, the most visible form of homelessness, defined as “Persons living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out” comprise only about 7% of the total homeless population at the time of the 2016 Census.
Of the States and Territories, NSW recorded the largest increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness (9,525) and the homeless rate (from 40.8 to 50.4 persons per 10,000).
The NSW parliamentary Library have produced a useful paper which enumerates homelessness by electorate and provides an interactive map of the ABS data.