ABS Figures Reassess Homelessness
11 September 2012 at 12:52 pm
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed that Australia’s homeless numbers are dropping after producing revised figures using a new and expanded definition of homelessness.
However, a drop in the official number of homeless Australians should not be misinterpreted as an actual fall in homelessness or as a pretext for cutting back on national efforts to fight the problem, according to homeless organisation Mission Australia.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has applied a new methodology to recalculate its 2001 and 2006 Census counts of homeless people in an effort to improve its accuracy.
As a result, the number of homeless Australians counted has changed from 100,000 to over 95,000 in 2001 and 105,000 to almost 90,000 in 2006.
Mission Australia’s spokesperson, Eleri Morgan-Thomas, said it supported the ABS’s efforts to arrive at a more consistent approach for counting homeless people but was concerned about the potential for the change to be misinterpreted as a real reduction in homeless numbers.
“There’s no question that counting homeless people is extremely difficult and problematic,” Morgan-Thomas said.
“The ABS is seeking to introduce a more consistent approach for counting homeless – a valauble endeavour which we support.
The ABS found that there were 89,728 people who were homeless on 8 August 2006, or 0.5 per cent of the Australian population (45 homeless people for every 10,000 persons).
Between 2001 and 2006 there was a six per cent decrease in the number of people who were homeless (the rate of homelessness declined from 51 homeless people per 10,000 persons in 2001). The fall in the boarding house population (down 5,840) drove the overall decline in homelessness.
The Federal Government says the new definition builds on the trailblazing work of Professor Chris Chamberlain and Associate Professor David MacKenzie, who were first in the world to use Census data to estimate homelessness.
The ABS definition recognises that a person could be homeless if they have no choice but to live in a dwelling that is not fit for human habitation; or to reside in a place without tenure; or to stay somewhere where they have no privacy or personal space.
The Government says the new definition will also be applied to the 2011 Census figures when they are released later this year.
The ABS says on Census night 2006 the rate of homelessness was highest in the Northern Territory (792 per 10,000 persons) and lowest in Tasmania (24 per 10,000 persons).
“Most homeless people were not sleeping rough or in improvised dwellings – these people accounted for only eight per cent of all homeless persons. People living in severely crowded dwellings were the largest homeless group (35 per cent), followed by people staying temporarily with other households (20 per cent) or staying in supported accommodation for the homeless (19 per cent).
“At the time of the 2006 Census six in ten homeless people were aged under 35 years, and just over half were men (57 per cent).”
The ABS report also presents estimates of people who were not homeless but who were living in some form of marginal housing on Census night. These include people who may be at risk of homelessness. On Census night in 2006, there were 43,149 people (22 people per 10,000 persons) living in crowded dwellings just below the severe threshold of homelessness.
“There were another 7,724 people (4 people per 10,000 persons) living in improvised dwellings in a range of circumstances that do not meet the definition of homelessness, and 12,444 people ( six people per 10,000 persons) who were marginally housed in caravan parks.”
The Council to Homeless Persons (CHP) CEO, Jenny Smith says the ABS homelessness review findings are an important step forward in the journey to having more in-depth statistics on homelessness.
“Despite the revised figures, thousands of people become homeless each night in Australia and services are groaning under the weight of increased demand. The data from services provides a more accurate measure of the need for homelessness assistance and the pressure on our sector as a result of limited resources”, Smith said.
“The Census is structured around people being ‘at home’, hence the data generated by the Census will not provide the full picture of homelessness. Due to the limitations of the Census, inevitably some of the numbers generated will be lower than other earlier approaches using multiple sources of data.
“To account for shortfalls in Census data, the ABS and an expert advisory stakeholder group have been working for months evaluating a range of data sources to improve measurement. Additional data is also being collected from services on demand, which provides a more accurate picture of the need for homelessness services.
“We have been fortunate to have led the way in Australia for many years with a cultural definition of homelessness that focuses on the accommodation aspects of homelessness. The new definition of homelessness adopted today by the ABS adds to this pioneering work with a focus on three aspects of ’home’: security of tenure, adequacy of the dwelling and social amenity,” Smith said.
“Over the next few years, the ABS will be able to work with the sector to pull together a fuller picture of homelessness in Australia.”