What are the different types of homelessness?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines six categories of homelessness

Last updated 27 May 2019

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recognises a person as experiencing homelessness if they are living in a dwelling that is inadequate; 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. From this overview the ABS defines six categories of homelessness:

  1. persons living in improvised dwellings, tents, or sleeping out (‘rough sleepers’)
  2. persons in supported accommodation
  3. persons staying temporarily with other households (‘couch surfing’)
  4. persons living in boarding houses
  5. persons in other temporary lodgings
  6. persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings.

Figure 1: Different types of homelessness (ABS homelessness operational groups)

People are not classified as homeless if they are in prisons, detention centres and other institutions such as juvenile correctional facilities or hospitals; students living in halls of residence; and members of religious orders such as monks and nuns living in seminaries and nunneries and similar establishments.

The ABS estimates of homelessness cover people who are residents in Australia and other Territories on Census night and do not include overseas visitors; people who were counted in offshore, shipping or migratory regions; and people on an overnight journey by train or bus.

Of the 116,427 people counted as being homeless on Census night 2016, the greatest proportion (51,088 or 43.9% of all homeless people) were those living in 'severely' crowded dwellings (e.g. living in a dwelling which requires four or more extra bedrooms to accommodate the people who usually live there). Of those living in 'severely' crowded dwellings 43.7 per cent (22,300 people) were aged 19 to 34; 32.9 per cent lived in NSW; 54.0 per cent were male; and 21.1 per cent were attending secondary or tertiary education.

Table 1: Number of homeless in each category and % of all homeless people, 2016 

Persons living in improvised dwellings or sleeping out Persons in supported accomm. Persons staying temporarily with other households Persons living in boarding houses Persons in other temporary lodgings Persons living in 'severely' crowded dwellings All homeless persons
8,200 21,235 17,725 17,503 678 51,088 116,427
7.0% 18.2% 15.2% 15.0% 0.6% 43.9% 100.0%
Source: ABS2049 Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016 Table 1.8