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Homelessness in Sydney Local Health District

"Homelessness is not just the result of too few houses. Its causes are many and varied. Domestic violence, a shortage of affordable housing, unemployment, mental illness, family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse all contribute to the level of homelessness in Australia (FaHCSIA, 2008). Homelessness is not a choice. Homelessness is one of the most potent examples of disadvantage in the community, and one of the most important markers of social exclusion (Department of Human Services, 2002)." (ABS 2012)

Summary

In Australia on Census night 2011, an estimated 105,237 people were considered homeless. The homelessness rate had risen since the previous Census by 20% or more in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT, with Northern Territory seeing a decrease of 8%. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that most of the increase in homelessness between 2006 and 2011 was due to people living in severely crowded dwellings.

In NSW in 2011, there were an estimated 28,192 people1 living with homelessness (an increase of 5,971 or 27% on the revised 2006 Census figure). The 2011 Census also indicates that in NSW:

  • 34% of all homeless people live in severely overcrowded housing;
  • The number of people who are rough sleepers remains stable at 7% of the total homeless population
  • The number of boarding houses residents increased by 9.5% over the 2006-11 period
  • There was a 27% increase in the number of people in supported accommodation services on the nights of the 2006 and 2011 Census

NSW is divided into seven rural and regional Local Health Districts and eight metropolitan Local Health Districts (LHDs) for the purposes of health administration. The City of Sydney is covered by two metropolitan LHDs – Sydney Local Health District (SLHD) and South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD). This report provides an overview of homelessness within SLHD which includes parts of in addition to parts of the City Sydney includes the inner west suburbs. The report was produced in collaboration with SESLHD based on a similar report compiled for that LHD.

In SLHD in 2011, there were an estimated 4068 people living with homelessness. This constituted 14% of NSW homelessness. Census data indicated that in SLHD in 2011:

  • 25% were in severely overcrowded dwellings
  • 1% were sleeping rough
  • 57% of homeless people were living in boarding houses
  • There were less rough sleepers and more people in boarding houses than in SESLHD.

In addition to Census data, a survey of mental health inpatients in SLHD and South Western Sydney LHD indicated that 20% were affected by unstable housing, and over a quarter of these people reported rough sleeping.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Definition of Homelessness

Homelessness is a broad multi-factorial phenomenon that goes beyond lack of a roof under which to sleep. The ABS has developed their definition in consultation with experts and based on wide-ranging perspectives in current literature. The ABS" Homelessness Statistics Reference Group agreed on the statistical definition that could be utilised to provide estimates of homelessness in Australia. Given the complex multi-dimensional nature of the statistical definition it may not be possible to operationalise in full from all data collections, however it has been used to derive estimates from the 2006 and 2011 Australian Census data.

The ABS definition of homelessness is informed by an understanding of homelessness as "ome"lessness, not rooflessness. It emphasises the core elements of "home" in Anglo American and European interpretations of the meaning of home as identified in research evidence2. 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".

ABS defines a person as homeless when that person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives and their current living arrangement:

  • Is in a dwelling that is inadequate
  • Has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable
  • Does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations.

If the persons living arrangements are lacking in any of the three areas AND they do not have the financial, personal, psychological or physical means to make another choice they are considered homeless.

Three principles are used to define who is homeless. A framework to categorise homelessness in Australia was developed by drawing on accepted international frameworks and the agreed operational groups are presented below. In practice the figures for each of these operational groups were drawn from multiple census variables.

  1. Persons who are in improvised dwellings, tents or sleepers out
  2. Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless
  3. Persons staying temporarily with other households
  4. Persons staying in boarding houses
  5. Persons in other temporary lodging
  6. Persons living in "severely" crowded dwellings

Estimation of the number of homeless in Sydney Local Health District

ABS data on homelessness

The ABS uses census data to estimate of the number of homeless people. These estimates are published in the report 2049.0 Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness. Estimates from the most recent census (2011) are available for regions defined in the Australian Statistical Geography Standard.

All estimates of the number of homeless people presented in this report are derived from ABS estimates for Statistical Area Level 3s (SA3s). There is some misalignment between SA3 boundaries and Local Health District boundaries. This misalignment is most significant for the Sydney Inner City SA3, which is cut roughly in half by SLHD and SESLHD (shown in the map below). To account for this, SLHD estimates have been obtained by applying weighting factors to the Sydney Inner City SA3 data. These factors were derived from Statistical Area Level 2 (which are smaller than SA3s) data available from the ABS Table Builder. These data showed that approximately 12% of rough sleepers and people staying in supported accommodation for the homeless in Sydney Inner City SA3 were in SLHD and that approximately 31% of boarding house residents were in SLHD. Data were not available for all homeless operational groups. Where data were not available, it has been assumed that 12% reside in SLHD.

Figure 1: Map showing the alignment of SLHD (red), SESLHD (green) and SA3s.

Figure 1: Map showing the alignment of SLHD (red), SESLHD (green) and SA3s.

Homelessness data for Sydney Local Health District

The chart below shows the breakdown of homeless people by operational group in SLHD and NSW. Notably, SLHD had a higher proportion of persons staying in boarding houses (57% in SLHD, 23% in NSW) and a lower proportion in improvised dwellings or sleeping rough (1.5% in SLHD, 6.8% in NSW).

Figure 2: Distribution of homeless people in SLHD and NSW by homeless operational group, 2011.

Figure 2: Distribution of homeless people in SLHD and NSW by homeless operational group, 2011.

See the data

Distribution of homelessness within SLHD

The chart below shows the distribution of homelessness within SLHD by SA3. The SA3s with the largest number of homeless persons were Strathfield-Burwood-Ashfield and Marrickville-Sydenham-Petersham, largely because of the number of people staying in boarding houses. Strathfield-Burwood-Ashfield also had the largest number of people staying in supported accommodation accommodation for the homeless (188). Canterbury SA3 had the largest number of people living in severely overcrowded dwellings (459). Canada Bay had the lowest number of homeless persons (171). Almost all people who were staying in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out were within Sydney Inner City SA3.

Figure 3: Distribution of homeless people in SLHD by SA3 and homeless operational group, 2011.

Figure 3: Distribution of homeless people in SLHD by SA3 and homeless operational group, 2011.

See the data

Homelessness in SLHD and SESLHD - a comparison

SLHD and SESLHD cover the urban areas in and around the Sydney Inner City SA3. As discussed above, this report assumes that 31% of boarding house residents in the Sydney Inner City SA3 and 12% of all other homeless people within the Sydney Inner City SA3 were residing within SLHD and that the remainder were within SESLHD.

The data for the two areas are presented inthe chart below. The two LHDs contained 33.3% of the total NSW homeless population. SLHD included 14.4% all of all NSW homeless persons and SESLHD 18.9% of all NSW homeless persons.

The main difference between the LHDs was that SESLHD had a larger proportion of rough sleepers (24.4% of NSW total) which is due to the geographical coverage of that LHD within Sydney Inner City.

SLHD and SESLHD jointly contain the majority of all NSW homeless persons that stay in boarding houses (66.1%).

Figure 4: Distribution of homeless people in SLHD and SESLHD by homeless operational group, 2011.

Figure 4: Distribution of homeless people in SLHD and SESLHD by homeless operational group, 2011.

See the data

Rough sleepers - City of Sydney Street Count

The City of Sydney Council organise a street count twice a year. The aim is to provide accurate and up-to-date information about numbers of people sleeping rough or occupying beds in temporary shelters and homelessness hostels. Street counts take place in February and August between the hours of 1am and 3am and are conducted by around 150 volunteers in consultation with people that have experienced homelessness.

City of Sydney is covered by both SLHD and SESLHD so the numbers are spread across both these districts. In August 2014 there were 296 people sleeping rough and 421 people occupying hostel beds, which is somewhat lower than estimates from the 2011 census. The numbers from the street count August 2011 were also higher. At that time there were 307 people sleeping rough and 448 occupying hostel beds.

Boarding houses in SLHD - NSW Fair Trading registration list

The NSW Boarding Houses Act 2012 was passed to strengthen and regulate the boarding house sector. Boarding houses are now divided into two categories: general boarding houses and assisted boarding houses. General boarding houses are defined as premises that offer beds for a fee or reward providing there are five or more residents. Assisted boarding houses are boarding premises that provide beds in exchange for a fee or reward for persons with additional needs.

Registered boarding houses are listed on a database available at NSW Fair Trading website. It should be noted that, anecdotally, organisations working within the homelessness sector suggest there remain many boarding houses not registered3. Within SLHD, there are 333 boarding houses currently registered, of which 6 are listed as “assisted". The distribution of boarding houses with SLHD is shown below.

Figure 5: The number of boarding houses within SLHD by SA3 Source: NSW Fair Trading website

The number of boarding houses within SLHD by SA3
Source: NSW Fair Trading website

See the data

Marginal housing in SLHD - by Statistical Area Level 3

2,654 persons in SLHD were classified, not as homeless on 2011 Census night, but as living in some form of marginal housing and at risk of homelessness. Of the total number of marginally housed people within SLHD, 99.6% (2,644 persons) were living in “other crowded dwellings" requiring three extra bedrooms (see chart below). Of these, 43.1% live in the Canterbury SA3 and 34.3% in the Strathfield-Burwood-Ashfield SA3.

Figure 6: The number of people living in overcrowded conditions in SLHD by SA3.

The number of people living in overcrowded conditions in SLHD by SA3.

See the data

Discharge to Homelessness Study - an overview of mental health and housing

The former South Western Sydney Area Health Mental Health Service, now Sydney South West LHD and SLHD undertook a series of surveys since 2010 to measure discharges into "homelessness" from selected inpatient mental health facilities. The latest round of data collection was in August 2013.

The results in the chart below. At admission, it was found that 68 (20%) of patients had unstable housing, with the majority in temporary accommodation. 18 reported sleeping rough, with others in crisis accommodation, police custody or another unspecified homeless state. All homeless inpatients were provided with significant interventions in order to improve their housing situation.

At discharge 60 (17%) of patients were discharged to unstable housing after successful interventions resulted in improvements in housing for eight patients. The breakdown of homelessness types was similar to those on admission. Interventions mainly improved the situation for those who were sleeping rough, most of whom were provided with accommodation.

Figure 7: Number of people by type of homelessness at admission to mental health services and at discharge, August 2013.

Number of people by type of homelessness at admission to mental health services and at discharge, August 2013.

Acknowledgements

The SLHD Data were compliled with assistance from Adrienne Lucey, Homelessness Health Coordinator, and Boris Gazabarich, Homelssness Health Data Project Officer, SESLHD. The report is based on a similar report from SLHD.

Data tables

Data presented in Tables 1 to 3 are derived from the ABS Paper Estimating homelessness (ABS, 2012). 31% of boarding house residents in Inner City Sydney SA3 and 12% of all other homeless people are assumed to reside in SLHD

Number and propotion of homeless persons by homeless operational group in SLHD and NSW, 2011.
Homeless operational group SLHD number (%) NSW number (%)
Persons who are in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out 62 (1.5%) 1,924 (6.8%)
Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless 471 (11.6%) 4,926 (17.5%)
Persons staying temporarily with other households 159 (3.9%) 4,937 (17.5%)
Persons staying in boarding houses 2,322 (57.1%) 6,504 (23.1%)
Persons in other temporary lodging 13 (0.3%) 244 (0.9%)
Persons living in "severely" crowded dwellings 1,041 (25.6%) 9,657 (34.3%)
All homeless persons 4,068 (100%) 28,192 (100%)

The number of homeless persons within SLHD by Statistical Area Level 3 and homeless operational groups, 2011
Homeless operational group Canada Bay Canterbury Leichhardt Marrickville - Sydenham - Petersham Strathfield - Burwood - Ashfield Sydney Inner City
Persons who are in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out 0 0 NA 3 NA 59
Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless 19 37 44 102 188 81
Persons staying temporarily with other households 40 59 NA 40 NA 20
Persons staying in boarding houses 66 108 231 670 786 461
Persons in other temporary lodging 0 0 0 0 9 4
Persons living in "severely" crowded dwellings 46 459 13 95 373 55
SLHD Total 171 663 288 910 1,356 680

A comparison of the number and proportion of homeless persons by homeless operational group in Sydney LHD and South East Sydney LHD, 2011
Homeless operational group SLHD number % of NSW total SESLHD number % of NSW total Both number % of NSW total
Persons who are in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out 62 3.2 469 24.4 531 27.6
Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless 471 9.6 788 16 1,259 25.6
Persons staying temporarily with other households 159 3.2 573 11.6 732 14.8
Persons staying in boarding houses 2322 35.7 1975 30.4 4,297 66.1
Persons in other temporary lodging 13 5.3 38 15.6 51 20.9
Persons living in "severely" crowded dwellings 1041 10.8 1474 15.3 2,515 26.1
All homeless persons 4068 14.4 5317 18.9 9,385 33.3

The number of registered boarding houses within SLHD
LGA Number
Ashfield 43
Burwood 24
Canada Bay 9
Canterbury 18
Leichhardt 23
Marrickville 101
Strathfield 3
Sydney City (SLHD section only) 112
Total 333

The number of persons in maringal housing within SLHD, by Statistical Area Level 3 and homeless operational group, 2011
Homeless operational group Canada Bay Canterbury Leichhardt Marrickville - Sydenham - Petersham Strathfield - Burwood - Ashfield Sydney Inner City
Persons living in other crowded dwellings 134 1,144 27 278 909 152
Persons in other improvised dwellings NA 0 NA 10 NA 0
Persons who are marginally housed in caravan parks 0 0 0 0 0 0
SLHD Total 134 1,144 27 288 909 152

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2049.0 Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness. ABS 2012

  2. Mallett, S (2004). Understanding Home: A Critical Review of the Literature. The Sociological Review, 52 (1), 62-89.

  3. Marrickville: boarding house central