Census gives voice to the homeless

Many Australians might have lost faith and interest in the Census after the computer failures on Census night in August. But the women at McAuley House were keen to participate and add their voices to the collection of data on homelessness.

Twenty women gathered at McAuley House over a couple of days to fill out their hard copy forms, with the help of residential care workers. Some others took forms to fill out wherever they were going to be located on Census night.

Renee Page, Recovery and Wellbeing Team Leader, at McAuley House, organised workers to help the women fill out their forms, if required. Two women required help from Turkish and Bengali interpreters to complete their forms.

“Most of the women were really keen about doing the Census because they wanted to be included and to feel part of something that involved everyone in the country, even those who have no home of their own,” Renee said.

“Some of the women were also anxious to ensure their forms were filled out because they were frightened of getting a fine.”

McAuley Community Services for Women was part of a national campaign to get an accurate count of homelessness in Australia on census night and in the three weeks that followed.

The ABS statistical 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.

This means that anyone who is sleeping on the streets, couch surfing, living in an overcrowded situation, living in substandard housing, transitional housing, in a caravan park, rooming house or hostel is considered homeless.

“If someone is living in one of the dwellings listed then, they can complete the Census form but write ‘NONE’ in response to the question ‘where do you usually live’,” said Renee.

The women living at McAuley House stay for varying periods. In the past year:

  • McAuley House supported close to 100 women.
  • McAuley House has been home to women from 23 countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China (excludes SARs and Taiwan), Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. We have had 1 Torres Strait Islander through in the last year.
  • The average length of stay is four months.
  • In the week before coming to McAuley House the women were in a variety of accommodations including: psychiatric hospital, boarding/rooming house, emergency accommodation, hospital, park/sleeping rough or a flat.
  • Reasons for seeking assistance from McAuley House included: homeless, family violence, financial difficulties, housing crisis, inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions, family/relationship breakdown, mental health issues, medical issues, substance use, problematic alcohol use and lack of family/community support.

Renee said she hoped the Census would capture accurate information relating to homelessness so that the wider community and policy makers better understood the problem.

“It is also really important that we know the extent of homelessness from a policy perspective so that funding can adequately address some of the issues,” she said.

18 October 2016