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Housing circumstances and health

Homelessness on Census night

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

The definition of homelessness used in reporting Census data has been developed for application to the general population in Australia. 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).

Indigenous Australians have been undercounted in the Census and therefore, estimates of homelessness based on Census data will be an underestimation. In the 2016 Census, the estimated undercount of the Indigenous population was 17.5%. Some of those who were undercounted may have been homeless at the time of the Census (ABS 2018).

On Census night, 2016, among Indigenous Australians:

  • An estimated 23,410 (4%) were homeless, amounting to 20% of the total estimated homeless population.
    • This includes 16,406 Indigenous Australians living in severely crowded households (requiring 4 or more additional bedrooms).
  • Those living in remote areas were more likely to be homeless (12% or 15,561) on Census night than those living in non-remote areas (2% or 7,844).
  • The Northern Territory had the highest rate of homelessness (21% or 12,126), while Tasmania had the lowest (1% or 131) (Figure HH 7).
  • The rate of homelessness among Indigenous Australians on Census night decreased, from 487 per 10,000 in 2011 to 361 per 10,000 in 2016.
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Types of homelessness

For Census data, the ABS defines six operational groups of homelessness according to the living situation of the person. In 2016, among the 23,410 Indigenous Australians who were homeless:

  • 70% (16,406) were living in ‘severely’ crowded dwellings (requiring 4 or more additional bedrooms)
  • 12% (2,883) were living in supported accommodation for the homeless
  • 9% (2,167) were living in improvised dwellings, tents, or sleeping out
  • 5% (1,124) were staying temporarily with other households
  • 4% (833) were either living in boarding houses, or in other temporary lodgings (Figure HH 8a).

By state and territory, major differences existed, but these were heavily dependent on the number of Indigenous people living in severely crowded dwellings:

  • In Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, the largest group of homeless people were residents of severely crowded dwellings.
  • In New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, the largest group of homeless people were counted in supported accommodation for the homeless (Figure HH 8b).
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Marginal housing

The Census collects data on people who may have been at risk of homelessness because they were living in some form of marginal housing. In 2016, 11,651 or 2% of Indigenous Australians were at risk of homelessness. Those living in remote areas were more likely to be at risk of homelessness (6% or 7,283) than those in non-remote areas (1% or 4,365). Of those who were at risk of homelessness:

  • 92% (10,702) were living in crowded dwellings requiring an additional 3 bedrooms
  • 5% (625) were marginally housed in caravan parks
  • 3% (329) were living in improvised dwellings.