Campaign to Make Sure Homelessness Counts in the Census
4 August 2016 at 11:43 am
Not for Profits, led by Homelessness Australia, are campaigning to ensure that homeless people are included in the 2016 census so the severity of the issue is accurately represented.
The organisations are leveraging the attention on Homelessness Week, 1 to 7 August, to raise awareness ahead of the census night on 9 August.
Catherine Yeomans, CEO of Mission Australia, which is supporting the campaign, told Pro Bono Australia News she expected the homelessness statistics to have worsened since the last census.
“It’s very important we have accurate data because the data we’re relying on at the moment is from the 2011 census, and we know that that told us on any given night there’s 105,000 people across Australia who are identified as homeless,” Yeomans said.
“What we know in the intervening years is that there seems to be increasing demand on homelessness providers like Mission Australia and other services as well, and also there’s unmet need. We’re turning people away because we can’t keep up with demand.
“So we think it’s really important for the census to accurately reflect the levels of homelessness so we can continue raising this as a matter of urgency for urgent attention from governments at all levels.”
She also said it was important to have accurate data on Australia’s “hidden homeless” because the transient nature of homelessness means many people remain invisible and are not picked up by the census.
While there has been a noticeable increase in people sleeping rough, she said those on the streets only represent a fraction of the homelessness population.
“They’re people who we don’t see on our streets but nevertheless they are homeless. So we can often think of homelessness as being people who might be sleeping under a shop awning, in a doorway,” Yeomans said.
“Actually only 6 per cent of people [who] are homeless are sleeping in that way. Hidden homeless will be the people you don’t immediately notice.
“That’ll be the car parked at a beachside suburb near the shower block… and increasingly this can be families as well, this is not just singles or couples. The hidden homeless could also be young people couch surfing, wearing out their welcome, moving around either between relatives or friends. It might be people who’ve got a voucher from us for a nights accommodation in a motel because they are homeless and without that they might actually face a very scary night sleeping on the street.
“So there are many different ways in which homelessness can manifest itself but basically whenever someone doesn’t have access to safe, secure and affordable accommodation on a longterm basis then they are facing homelessness.”
There will be a number of different methods to ensure homeless Australians are included – accurately – on census night.
Yeomans said many people who are homeless people were simply not aware of the upcoming census, faced accessibility issues, or might misrepresent their housing situation on the form – all of which contributed to the homeless population undercount.
“Homelessness providers or providers of housing or supported accommodation… are actively engaged and encouraging either tenants or people that we’re working with to fill in the form or fill in the form accurately,” she said.
“If people are in crisis or supported accommodation they should be filling in their suburb as ‘none’ so that it’s accurately represented that they’re currently homeless.
“We also know that the ABS themselves are actually sending out field officers to speak with people who may be sleeping rough, and they’ll have paper forms… [and] be able to interview people and collect those statistics as well.”
If the census shows a rise in the numbers of homeless people, which it’s predicted to do, Yeomans said she hoped it would force governments to prioritise the issue.
“And if not we really need to ask members of the public to agitate for that. Parliamentarians are our representatives in government, they need to be representing everyone, not only the people who find themselves homeless, but they need to really represent community sentiment where people do want this issue addressed,” she said.
“It is causing issues in society, it just reflects in higher rates of hospital admissions, interactions with the justice system, it causes hardship and in some cases long-term trauma for people.
“So if the numbers are going up, we’re failing people as a society, we’re not looking after every member of our community, and we need to take action.”