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Housing circumstances and health

Previous experience of homelessness

Multiple definitions of homelessness are used throughout this topic, aligning with different data sources. For more information, see Data and notes: ‘Defining homelessness’.

Based on feedback gathered through community engagement (ABS 2013 and ABS 2014), the ABS reported on homelessness in a more culturally appropriate way as part of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) in 2014–15.

The NATSISS is one of the ABS’s household surveys, which means people without a permanent place to live at the time were not considered in scope. However, people aged 15 and over were asked whether they had been without a permanent place to live in the past, and for which reasons. Those who gave reasons, which indicated hardship, such as relationship problems, financial difficulties, etc., were deemed to have experienced homelessness.

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).

Based on this measure, 29% (or 129,000) of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over had experienced homelessness earlier in their lives. The state or territory with the lowest rate was the Northern Territory (16%) and the jurisdictions with the highest rates were the Australian Capital Territory (38%) and Victoria (37%) (Figure HH 9a).

Experience of homelessness was almost twice as common among non-remote populations, compared with remote populations (32% and 18%, respectively). Cohort effects (when people were born) appeared to be more important than age, since previous experience of homelessness was much higher among Indigenous Australians aged 35–44 than among those aged 55 and over (45% compared with 18%, respectively, in non-remote areas) (Figure HH 9b).

Generally, the time since a person’s most recent experience of homelessness increased with age. The starkest difference between consecutive age groups was between those aged 25–34 and those aged 35–44. Among those aged 25–34, 15% of people had their most recent experience of homelessness 10 or more years ago, compared with 45% of people aged 35–44 (Figure HH 9c).

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Reasons for homelessness

In 2014–15, among Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over who lived in private dwellings, those who had experienced homelessness in the past reported the most common reasons as:

  • ‘Family / friend / relationship problems’ in non-remote areas (66,000 or 59%)
  • ‘Tight housing / rental market / not enough housing’ (7,600 or 43%) and ‘Family / friend / relationship problems’ (7,500 or 42%) in remote areas (Figure HH 10).
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