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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Estimating primary homelessness in Tasmania

The Tasmanian Government announced in March 2008 that a benchmark figure for primary homelessness (rough sleeping) in Tasmania would be established by 30 June 2008 and committed to halving the number of people sleeping rough in Tasmania by 2010.

A working group comprising representatives from the DPAC’s Social Inclusion Unit, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), DHHS’s Housing Tasmania, Shelter Tasmania and the University of Tasmania’s Housing and Community Research Unit (HACRU) was established to determine the benchmark figure.

Method

Measuring homelessness is a difficult task and all methods have their limitations. The homeless population is highly fluid as people move in and out of homelessness and between different types of accommodation (shelters, rough sleeping, staying temporarily with friends). This makes it difficult to establish a reliable and stable estimate of people who are homeless.

The working group reviewed existing data and research on homelessness, consulted with all spheres of government and service providers and conducted a survey of homelessness service agencies to establish a robust method of measuring the current level of primary homelessness in Tasmania.

After considering the limitations of available data sources and the survey results, the working group concluded that the ABS Census provided the most comprehensive estimate of primary homelessness currently available for Tasmania. Preliminary data on primary homelessness from the 2006 Census was derived by the working group ahead of publication of the final figures late in 2008. The working group used this data to establish a benchmark figure of 450 people who were primary homeless on Census night 2006.

Benchmark figure

Final figures on homelessness from the 2006 Census were released on 4 September 2008 in the report Counting The Homeless, 2006 by researchers Chamberlain and MacKenzie. The report stated that the total number of homeless people in Tasmania in 2006 was 2,507, of which 15 per cent were in the primary homeless category. This produced a figure of 376 people. The Government revised the primary homelessness benchmark to this number following advice from the ABS that this was a more accurate estimate of the number of people who were in the primary homeless category on Census night 2006 than the previous preliminary figure of 450 people.

On 9 July 2009 more detailed data on homelessness in Tasmania was released in the report Counting the Homeless 2006: Tasmania by Chamberlain and MacKenzie. The report contained a more precise estimate of the number of primary homeless people in Tasmania on Census night 2006, of 385 people. This figure is more accurate than the previous figure of 376 as it is based on an actual count, rather than being calculated from a proportion estimate. Consequently the Government has revised the primary homelessness benchmark figure to 385.

While it is difficult to know exactly how many Tasmanians are sleeping rough on any given night, it is important to work on the most up-to-date and accurate information. The Government will continue to work towards halving the primary homelessness benchmark by the end of 2010.

Homelessness plan

The Social Inclusion Unit is developing a five-year Tasmanian homelessness plan collaboratively with Housing Tasmania and in consultation with key stakeholders in the community, business and government sectors. The plan provides an evidence-based structure for a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach to reduce and prevent homelessness in Tasmania.

The plan will be developed in the context of the national homelessness reforms and the focus is to ensure that, wherever possible, homelessness is prevented. Where people do experience homelessness, the plan aims to ensure they are assisted to move quickly into-long term housing and are connected with education, employment and community.

The plan will address all categories of homelessness - including people staying temporarily with friends or relatives, in crisis shelters and boarding houses and other forms of inadequate and/or insecure accommodation - and will measure outcomes and progress against the target of halving primary homelessness by the end of 2010.

Acknowledgements

The working group would like to acknowledge the valuable advice and support provided by community organisations in Tasmania who work with people who are homeless in assisting the working group to develop its method of estimating primary homelessness in Tasmania.

In particular, the working group would like to thank those agencies providing services under the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) for their assistance in conducting a survey of people who are homeless who approach SAAP agencies.

The working group would also like to acknowledge the support of a number of Australian and State Government agencies and local councils in advising the working group on the availability of data on primary homelessness in Tasmania.