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Homelessness in Australia, 2016 Census


On 14 March 2018, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released their homelessness estimates, based on the 2016 Census of Population and Housing.

Under the ABS definition, a person is homeless if they do not have suitable accommodation alternatives and their current living arrangement:

 is in a dwelling that is inadequate, or

  • has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable, or

  • does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations.

The key homelessness estimates from the 2016 Census are that:

  • there were 116,427 people enumerated in the Census classified as being homeless on Census night (up from 102,439 in 2011)

  • the homelessness rate was 50 persons for every 10,000 persons—up five per cent from the 48 persons in 2011, and up on the 45 persons in 2006

  • the homelessness rate rose by 27 per cent in New South Wales, while Western Australia fell 11 per cent and the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory each fell by 17 per cent

  • most of the increase in homelessness between 2011 and 2016 was reflected in people living in 'severely' crowded dwellings, up from 41,370 in 2011 to 51,088 in 2016

  • the number of people in supported accommodation for the homeless in 2016 was 21,235; almost unchanged from 2011

  • there were 17,503 homeless people in boarding houses in 2016, up from 14,944 in 2011

  • the number of homeless people in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out in 2016 was 8,200, up from 6,810 in 2011

  • people who were born overseas and arrived in Australia in the last five years accounted for 15 per cent (17,749 persons) of all persons who were homeless

  • the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were homeless was 361 persons per 10,000 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, a decrease from 487 in 2011

  • the number of homeless persons aged 55 years and over continued to increase, from 12,461 in 2006, to 14,581 in 2011 and 18,625 in 2016 (a 28 per cent increase between 2011 and 2016). The rate of older persons experiencing homelessness has also increased, from 26 persons per 10,000 of the population in 2011 up to 29 persons per 10,000 in 2016 and

  • the male homelessness rate increased to 58 males per 10,000 males, up from 54 in 2011, while the rate for females remained steady at 42 per 10,000 females.

Table 1.1 Persons by Homeless Operational Groups, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 (a)

2001 2006  2011 (b)2016
no. % no. % no. % no. %

Persons living in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out 8 946 9 7 247 8 6 810 7 8 200 7
Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless 13 420 14 17 329 19 21 258 21 21 235 18
Persons staying temporarily with other households 17 880 19 17 663 20 17 374 17 17 725 15
Persons living in boarding houses 21 300 22 15 460 17 14 944 15 17 503 15
Persons in other temporary lodging 338 - 500 1 682 1 678 1
Persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings 33 430 35 31 531 35 41 370 40 51 088 44
All homeless persons 95 314 100 89 728 100 102 439 100 116 427 100

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Cells in this table have been randomly adjusted to avoid the release of confidential data. As a result cells may not add to the totals.
(b) Homeless estimates from 2011 for the category 'Persons living in boarding houses' have been revised.

Source: ABS cat no. 2049.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016

Severe crowding and social housing

As noted above, a majority of the increase in homelessness between 2011 and 2016 was a result of more Australians living in severely crowded dwellings. This was also the case between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses.

While homelessness is not just the result of too few houses, severe overcrowding does suggest that there is a need for more housing that is affordable to low- to middle-income earners, and social housing in particular. Social housing is housing that is managed by either state and territory housing authorities or community housing providers and made available at below market rates to people who are unable to access suitable accommodation in the private rental market.

Despite Australia’s social housing stock having grown over the years, this has not been at a rate sufficient to keep pace with household growth and demand. As at 30 June 2017, there were 189,404 applicants on the waiting list for social housing across Australia. A significant proportion of these applicants are likely to be households in greatest need—that is, households that are homeless, in housing inappropriate to their needs or that is adversely affecting their health or placing their life and safety at risk, or, have very high rental housing costs.

Severe overcrowding is particularly prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with 70 per cent of homeless Indigenous Australians in this position. The latest homelessness estimates indicate that the rate of homeless Indigenous Australians fell between the 2011 and 2016 Censuses. If this rate is to continue to fall then this may hinge to some extent on the outcome of negotiations currently underway between the Australian Government and the states and territories over Commonwealth funding for housing for Indigenous people following the expiry of the National Partnership on Remote Housing in June 2018.

Homelessness by geography

In the linked spreadsheet, the Parliamentary Library has compiled homelessness estimates by ABS geographical areas and homelessness operational groups. Table 1 details total homeless persons by Statistical Area 2. Table 2 sets out total homeless persons by Statistical Area 3 and operational group.

Table 1 also lists the Commonwealth electorate that is most aligned with each SA2. Electorate estimates cannot be derived from this table.

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