Extract from an article by Anna Livsey
Domestic violence and housing affordability are common reasons for homelessness, but how many people are homeless in Australia?
- This is part of a new series on homelessness, No fixed address
Homelessness is difficult to quantify. There are different definitions, the statistics aren’t straightforward, and the nature of the issue itself makes it hard to measure.
But it is certainly on the rise. Determining how many people are homeless varies depending on how it’s defined and how it is counted. In Homelessness Week, we take a look at the available data.
How many people are homeless?
According to the 2011 census, the number of homeless people in Australia is 105,000, up from 89,728 in 2006. There isn’t a comparable figure from the 2016 census yet as the homelessness figures need to be derived from data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as the census does not ask directly if a respondent is homeless.
Researchers argue the ABS figures don’t capture the full picture, either due to the definition of homelessness used or the methods used to survey people.
For example, one study conducted in Adelaide counted more than four times as many homeless people using an alternative method to that used by the ABS.
What’s the definition of homelessness?
Any statistic on the number of homeless people also depends greatly on the definition of homelessness. Until 2008, the ABS used the cultural definition of homelessness based on a person’s housing situation. Then in 2012, the ABS introduced a new statistical definition to estimate Australia’s homeless population.
The new definition was broader than those used previously because it included those living in conventional houses and flats if they lacked privacy, safety and security of tenure in their dwelling. This is a type of homelessness known as “housed homelessness”.
In a report for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), homelessness academic Chris Chamberlain argued that ABS’s definition of homelessness might not give an accurate picture as it doesn’t capture most types of housed homelessness.
This type of homelessness can often be caused by situations involving mental health problems, domestic and family violence and other kinds of abuse. It can also shift the proportion of the homeless population towards family units and may overstate Indigenous homelessness.
What other data is out there?
Another way to measure trends in homelessness is by examining specialist homelessness services provided by not-for-profit organisations. This data is collected and reported by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)…(continues)
SOURCE: Anna Livsey, “Homeless in Australia: the shifting numbers and definitions”, The Guardian, 07 August 2017
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