This essay evaluates the new statistical definition of homelessness adopted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for the purposes of counting the homeless population.
The ABS defines a person as homeless if they lack any one of three elements: adequacy of the dwelling; security of tenure in the dwelling; and control of, and access to, space for social relations. This differs from the former 'cultural definition' which identifies people as homeless if they are in specified housing situations.
Both definitions suggest there has been growth in homelessness between 2006 and 2011, but the ABS definition has potentially significant implications for policy agendas and practice, because it suggests that homeless people have different demographic characteristics and geographic locations. For example, the ABS definition suggests significant growth in those living in overcrowded dwellings (termed 'housed homelessness' by the author).
It is argued that the cultural definition is more comprehensible than the ABS definition and the ABS definition is difficult to operationalise using Census data because many of those in the housed-homeless population cannot be counted. This means that it is not possible to specify the overall number of homeless people using the ABS definition, nor is it possible to specify the age and gender breakdown. The geographical distribution of the homeless population is also thrown into doubt and this has ramifications for the allocation of resources between the states and territories under the National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA).