ABS Homelessness Estimates

What is the Australian Bureau of Statistics?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is Australia’s official statistical organisation. They are an independent organisation who's role is to collect and make available statistics on a very broad range of issues including homelessness to both government and the community.

Homelessness estimates are very important. They underpin policy development and program design, inform funding arrangements and are a critical advocacy tool. But their importance has a deeper significance that goes beyond being used as a guide for directing resources or as a way of measuring outcomes. They also provide us with crucial evidence on how we operate and function as a society and help us answer questions like:

  • Are we building communities that look after their members?
  • Are our communities just and fair?
  • Does everyone has access to the safety and security of a home from which they are able to participate in civic life?
  • Are there children, women and men who are excluded from the basic securities and opportunities that the majority of us take for granted?

Homelessness estimates should perhaps be viewed as the most powerful and illustrative indication and measure of the health and inclusiveness of our communities.

You can visit the ABS website by clicking here.

How are Homelessness Estimates developed?

Australia is one of the few countries in the world that has not only attempts to estimate the numbers of people experiencing homelessness but also uses Census data to inform a “point in time” estimate.

Homelessness estimates have been developed using Census data since 1996. Professor Chris Chamberlain and Associate Professor David McKenzie worked in partnership with the ABS in 1996, 2001 & 2006 to develop homelessness estimates using a combination of Census Data, SAAP data & extensive fieldwork. The reports that were produced were called: Counting the Homeless. 

However, in 2009 the ABS decided to review the methodology that Chamberlain & McKenzie had used in previous years. This caused a great deal of controversy.

Many in the homelessness sector and various expert academics in homelessness research reject the fundamental premise outlined by the ABS that the Counting the Homeless methodology resulted in an “over-count”.

Given the hidden nature of homelessness and the complexity and challenges inherent in “counting” this population group, it is a widely held view (and one which the NWHN shares) that it is far more likely that homelessness in Australia is in fact consistently undercounted.

The 2011 homelessness estimate was developed by the ABS without the input of Professor Chamberlain & Professor McKenzie, using a different methodology and a different definition of homelessness.

The ABS have also revised the 2006 Counting the Homeless estimate using their new methodology and definition.

You can view or download a copy of the Information paper on the new methodology that the ABS uses to develop homelessness estimates here:

What is the ABS Definition of Homelessness?

Briefly the new ABS definition of homelessness is:

When a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives they are considered homeless if 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 definition has been constructed from a conceptual framework centred around the following elements:

  • Adequacy of the dwelling; and
  • Security of tenure in the dwelling; and
  • Control of, and access to space for social relations.

You can view or download the ABS Information Paper on their new Statistical Definition here:

How are people experiencing homelessness counted in the Census?

Everyone in Australia, except foreign diplomats and their families, are counted on Census Night. This includes people experiencing homelessness who are:

• living in hostels and refuges;
• without a usual address staying temporarily with friends or family, and those in temporary accommodation (e.g., motel, hotel or night shelter);
• living in a single room, with no kitchen or bathroom of its own, in a private unlicensed boarding house; and
• people living rough on Census night

How do you count people who are ‘sleeping rough’?

For ‘rough sleepers’, the ABS sends Special Collectors to go to places where they can usually be found, using a short version of the Census form. This activity may take up to a week to complete, depending on local conditions. The ABS recruit workers and volunteers from homelessness services to be Special Collectors, as well as people who are or have been homeless, but the positions are open to anyone who wants to apply. The Special Collectors receive training and are employed and paid by the ABS.

How do you count people experiencing homeless who are staying in accommodation?

It is important that all people who have no usual address answer ‘None’ for the question ‘Where does the person usually live?’ on the Census form, regardless of where they are staying that night. For example, they could be couch surfing, or staying in Temporary Accommodation such as emergency accommodation, refuges or hostels, or caravan parks and motels.

The ABS also works closely with homelessness and other organisations to locate boarding houses, refuges and hostels and accurately count the people staying in them.

You can view or download a Homelessness and Census Fact Sheet here:

ABC - 7.30 Report: How many homeless are there? The controversy around trying to put a figure on it.

This short segment that appeared on the ABC 7.30 Report in December 2011 gives a brief overview of some of the contentious issues associated with the Counting the Homeless Review

The report by Fiona Breen is titled: How many homeless are there? The controversy around trying to put a figure on it.

Click here to watch:

The Victorian Homelessness Networks submission to the CTH Review

You can view or download our joint submission to the Counting the Homeless Review here:

2011 Homelessness Estimates

According to the ABS, 105,237 people were homeless on Census night on August 9, 2011, or 0.5 per cent of the Australian population.

The rate of homelessness in Australia in 2011 was 49 persons for every 10,000 persons, up 8 per cent from 45 persons in 2006.

17,845 of all people experiencing homelessness were under the age of 12, rising from 15,715 in 2006

You can view or download a copy of the 2011 ABS Homelessness Estimate report here:

Overview of the 2011 Homelessness Estimates

If you would like to view or download the overview of the 2011 estimates that Homelessnes Australia have developed, click here:

2006 Homelessness Estimates

The 2006 Counting the Homeless Report recorded 104,676 people experiencing homelessness on Census Night.

You can view or download a copy of the 2006 Counting the Homeless report here:

2001 Homelessness Estimates

The 2001 Counting the Homeless Report recorded 99,900 people experiencing homelessness on Census Night.

You can view or download a copy of the 2001 Counting the Homeless report here:

1996 Homelessness Estimates

The 1996 census was the first census to target Australia’s homeless population with a special enumeration strategy, using the cultural definition of homelessness.

The 1996 Counting the Homeless Report recorded 105,300 people experiencing homelessness on Census Night.

You can view or download a copy of the 1996 Counting the Homeless Report here:

Useful Stuff

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Transcript of the ABC Interview with Minister O'Connor

You can view or download a copy of the transcript of the ABC interview (13.11.2012) with Minister O'Connor in response to the release of the 2011 Homelessness Statistics: