About homelessness

Homelessness can happen to anyone

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) definition states that 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 ABS definition of homelessness is informed by an understanding of homelessness as ‘home’lessness, not ‘roof’lessness. These elements may include: a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety, and the ability to control living space. Homelessness is therefore a lack of one or more of the elements that represent ‘home’.

In other words, while someone may have a roof over their head, they can still be classed as homeless if their housing is inadequate or inappropriate.

There are three main types of homelessness:

  • Primary homelessness is experienced by people without conventional accommodation (e.g. sleeping rough or in improvised dwellings).
  • Secondary homelessness is experienced by people who frequently move from one temporary shelter to another (e.g. emergency accommodation, youth refuges, “couch-surfing”).
  • Tertiary homelessness is experienced by people staying in accommodation that falls below minimum community standards (e.g. boarding housing and caravan parks). This definition was adopted by the Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Homelessness in 2001 and is widely used in our sector.

The definition is based on the premise that concepts of homelessness and housing are culturally bound, and that in order to define homelessness it is necessary to identify shared community standards about minimum housing.


Homelessness information & statistics *

The 2016 ABS Census determined that in Australia there are 116,427 people who are homeless.

  • On any given night in Australia, 1 in 200 people are homeless
  • One in four are one fortnight’s pay away from becoming homeless
  • In the five years to the last Census, homelessness increased by 14%
  • 59% of people who are homeless are male and 41 per cent are female
  • 60% of those affected by homelessness are under 35
  • 20% of those affected by homelessness are indigenous & 46% are born overseas
  • People between 20 – 30 make up a quarter of all people who are homeless
  • The leading cause of homelessness for women is family violence
Types of Homelessness

Although rough sleeping is a growing issue across Australian communities, the most common way that people experience homelessness is ‘severely overcrowded’ dwellings, and moving around between other kinds of insecure accommodation. This journey is often unsafe, and creates new risks for the health and wellbeing of those effected.

  • 7% are rough sleeping, often for a short time
  • 15% are boarding and couch surfing
  • 18% are in supported accommodation
  • 44% are in overcrowded dwellings
Causes of Homelessness

Family violence and a lack of affordable housing are the single largest contributors to homelessness. Other contributors include poor mental health, family breakdown, debt, poverty, leaving state care, or leaving prison.

  • 13% suffer from mental illness
  • 14% sudden loss of employment
  • 34% escaping domestic violence
  • 54% unable to afford housing
Homelessness in Melbourne
  • There are around 23,000 people who are homeless in Victoria
  • The Sleep Count Survey of rough sleepers taken in June 2018 found 400 people sleeping rough in inner Melbourne suburbs – many of whom were on the waiting list for public housing.
    • Around 80% were male and most were born in Australia
    • 14 % had been transient for more than five years
  • Homelessness costs Victoria $94 million a year


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