Census homelessness data reveals South Australia no longer leads the nation on homelessness responses

Census homelessness data reveals South Australia no longer leads the nation on homelessness responses

22 March 2023

This morning’s release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2021 Census data on estimating homelessness paints a picture of a bad situation getting worse, with the data revealing that homelessness increased by 1,200 people in South Australia between 2016 and 2021. 

Overall, homelessness decreased in New South Wales and the Northern Territory, but increased in South Australia.

David Pearson, a spokesperson from the South Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (SAAEH), states that the data is concerning and requires urgent action.

“There was a time when South Australia led the nation on housing and homelessness responses, bucking the national trends and reducing homelessness. This is no longer the case.

“The Malinauskas Government ought to be congratulated for their recent commitments to housing and homelessness made in a short period of time. However, the Census data released today reveals that this is not nearly enough, and that a Playford-era level of investment is urgently required.

“In South Australia, one of the most iconic investments made in recent years was the $610m Adelaide Oval upgrade. We need an investment of that scale to meet the need demonstrated by the Census data.”

Mr Pearson states that while the numbers from the Census are concerning, what should also alarm all South Australians is that the data released today is already 19 months old. 

The Census shows a modest 64-person reduction in rough sleeping to 323 people across South Australia on Census night, which is not reflective of the constantly changing nature of homelessness.

“You can’t change what you don’t measure, so it’s unsurprising that we’re not really managing the problem of homelessness. We can do better than this,” says Mr Pearson.

“Imagine how we’d manage problems like unemployment if we estimated the rates every five years and then took 588 days to release this information.”

The Adelaide Zero Project has addressed this challenge by collecting monthly data on people experiencing homelessness, including their name, underlying health and mental health issues, housing needs, location and more, measuring what is occurring at a local level with the ultimate goal of ending homelessness.

“Last month’s Adelaide Zero Project data showed an increase in rough sleeping from 189 people to 204 people in the City of Adelaide local government area alone. However, we only have this level of detail for the City of Adelaide,” says Mr Pearson.

“The Census data shows that when targeted investments are made, like what happened in some states in response to COVID-19, progress can be made. 

“Despite the common misconception to the contrary, the scale of homelessness in Australia is both preventable and solvable. Communities and countries around the world are demonstrating that.

“That is why we have called on the South Australian Government to provide greater investment in the efforts to expand By-Name List data, including to our regions; invest in more permanent supportive housing, which is the type of housing we know ends rough sleeping; and provide a steep change/Playford-era investment in social housing,” Mr Pearson concluded.

Associate Professor Selina Tually, Deputy Director of the Centre for Social Impact at Flinders University, states that it is of critical importance to have regularly updated data to manage an issue as complex as homelessness.

“It is clear we still have unacceptably high rates of homelessness in South Australia, across all population groups and types of homelessness. 

“While the data released today shows a much more updated picture of homelessness, we know that this data only reflects what was happening on Census night in August 2021. The harsh reality is that the situation since then has worsened. Our housing markets are more inaccessible and unaffordable than ever, and this is having huge impacts on people experiencing homelessness and the services trying desperately to support and house people.”

“While the Census data released today helps us understand things with a little more currency, we need more up-to-date data to capture the dynamics of homelessness, which we know are changing by the moment. We can’t solve people’s homelessness if we don’t understand the shape and scale of the challenge at both the individual and system level,” Dr Tually concludes.