Data and notes
There is no single definition of homelessness.
For the purposes of the Census of Population and Housing, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines a person as homeless if their current living arrangement:
- is in a dwelling that is inadequate;
- 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 (ABS 2012).
This definition of homelessness has been developed for application to the general population in Australia. In recognition of the differences in understanding concepts of home and homelessness within an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context, the ABS undertook community engagement activities to identify Indigenous perspectives of home and homelessness. Findings were reported in two ABS publications (ABS 2013 and ABS 2014).
For the purposes of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), 2014–15, the ABS used a more culturally appropriate question module, identifying those who had previously had no permanent place to live due to hardship as having experienced homelessness (ABS 2016b). This refers to whether a person has ever previously been without a 'permanent place to live' for reasons other than one of the following: saving money, work related reasons, building or renovating their home, travelling/on holidays, house sitting or having just moved back to town/city. People who had previously been without a permanent place to live were considered as having had an experience of homelessness if it were for the following reasons:
- family/relationship breakdowns;
- tight housing/rental market;
- alcohol or drug use;
- financial problems;
- mental illness;
- job loss;
- natural disaster or other damage to house; or
- health issues (ABS 2016b).
Note that estimates on past experiences of homelessness collected in the 2014–15 NATSISS are not comparable with prevalence estimates of homelessness derived from the Census of Population and Housing (ABS 2016b).
The Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC) is the national dataset about specialist support provided to Australians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It considers that a person is homeless if they are living in non-conventional accommodation (such as living on the street), or short-term or emergency accommodation (such as living temporarily with friends and relatives) (AIHW 2020b).
Census of Population and Housing (Census)
The Census is carried out every 5 years. It includes the standard Indigenous status question, which is asked for each household member. The Census form may be completed by one household member on behalf of others.
The 2016 Census was Australia's 17th national Census of Population and Housing, and the first to take a digital-first approach. With more than 95% of Australians participating, the 2016 Census showed a growing Indigenous Australian population. Indigenous Australians represented 2.8% of the population counted—up from 2.5% in 2011 and 2.3% in 2006.
Following each Census, population projections for years after the Census and back cast population estimates for the years before the Census are prepared based on the new information and a set of assumptions about mortality, fertility and migration. Three series of projections are produced representing combinations of assumptions resulting in high, medium and low population growth.
Further information about the nature of the Census is available at Census of Population and Housing: Nature and Content, Australia, 2016.
Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
Estimated resident population (ERP) is the official measure of the population of Australia, based on the concept of usual residence within Australia. Usual residence is that place where each person has lived or intends to live for six months or more from the reference date for data collection.
The estimates of the Indigenous Australian population presented are based on 2016 Census of Population and Housing counts of Indigenous Australians, adjusted for net undercount as measured by the Post Enumeration Survey. The extent of under coverage of Indigenous Australians in the 2016 Census and the relatively small sample size of the Post Enumeration Survey to adjust for that undercoverage means the estimates should be interpreted with a degree of caution.
More information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population estimates from the 2016 Census is available at Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS)
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS) 2018–19 is the largest health survey of Indigenous Australians, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) between July 2018 and April 2019. This survey collected information about a range of topics including long-term health conditions, disability, lifestyle factors, physical harm and use of health services. It collected information from Indigenous Australians of all ages in non-remote and remote areas of Australia, including discrete Indigenous communities.
In scope of the survey were all Indigenous Australians who were usual residents of private dwellings in Australia. Private dwellings are houses, flats, home units and any other structures used as private places of residence at the time of the survey. People usually resident in non-private dwellings, such as homeless shelters, prisons, hotels, motels, hostels, hospitals, nursing homes, and short-stay caravan parks were not in scope. Usual residents are those who usually live in a particular dwelling and regard it as their own or main home.
The NATSIHS included a sample of just over 10,500 Indigenous Australians from about 6,500 private dwellings. Physical measurements of height, weight and waist circumference were collected from respondents aged two years and over, except women who advised that they were pregnant, and was a voluntary component of the survey. Voluntary blood pressure measurements were also collected from respondents aged 18 years and over.
Selected non-Indigenous comparisons are available from the 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS). Time series comparisons for some indicators are available from the 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), 2012–13 Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (ATSIHS), 2008 NATSISS, 2004–05 NATSIHS, 2002 NATSISS, 2001 NHS and the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (NATSIS).
Further information is available at National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS)
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) 2014–15 is the fourth social survey of Indigenous Australians conducted by the ABS from September 2014 to June 2015. Information was collected by personal interview from approximately 11,000 Indigenous Australians living in private dwellings in both non-remote and remote parts of Australia about a range of demographic, social, environmental and economic characteristics.
In scope of the survey were all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were usual residents of private dwellings in Australia. Private dwellings are houses, flats, home units and any other structures used as private places of residence at the time of the survey. People usually resident in non-private dwellings, such as homeless shelters, prisons, hotels, motels, hostels, hospitals, nursing homes, and short-stay caravan parks were not in scope. Usual residents are those who usually live in a particular dwelling and regard it as their own or main home.
Where possible, the ABS provided recommendations for non-Indigenous data comparisons (such as the 2011–13 Australian Health Survey and the 2014 General Social Survey). Further details are available at NATSISS 2014–15: Appendix 2. Time series comparisons for some indicators are available from the 2018–19 NATSIHS, 2012–13 AATSIHS, 2004–05 NATSIHS, 2002 and 2008 NATSISS and the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (NATSIS), although not all data elements align across the 3 surveys.
Note that population estimates in the NATSISS results are likely to be underestimated, due to the reliance on 2011 Census-based projections in the estimation process. Backcast Indigenous populations for the 2014–15 midpoint, based on the 2016 Census, were around 7.5% higher than 2011-based projections, due to a range of non-demographic factors, such as changing levels of Indigenous self-identification in the Census. Percentages should not be strongly impacted by this issue.
Further information is available at National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.
Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)
The SHSC collects information about people who are referred to, or seek assistance from, specialist homelessness services (SHS) agencies. These services collect the data on an ongoing basis and are responsible for submitting the data to the AIHW on a monthly basis.
There are two parts to the SHSC — a Client collection and an Unassisted Persons collection:
- The Client collection captures information about adults and children who receive a service from an SHS agency.
- The Unassisted Person collection is used to gain information about adults and children whose request for service is not able to be met by an SHS agency.
Further information is available at Specialist Homelessness Services Collection.