Fixed data needs fixing

Data from the 2021 census will inform the government’s funding decisions for homelessness services.

This week in Western Australia, census officers will visit areas where people are known to sleep rough, to help them complete the census.

Services and government rely on the data the census provides. Supplied Photo: ABS.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused concern about the government’s collection of data on homelessness during this year’s census.

Campaigner for House the Homeless Jesse Noakes says the five-year census makes accurate data collection difficult.

“Data is used to make funding decisions, and obviously that funding process is a result of lobbying, advocacy and political pressure, which all rely heavily on the numbers as well,” he says.

“The numbers are a crucial advocacy tool and I think it’s only by fully realising and measuring the scale of the problem that solutions can be designed that are appropriate to resolve it.”

Mr Noakes says he hopes the census is not the dominant metric going forward for recording data on homelessness.

 “I think a more fine-tuned or detailed measurements will do, or basing it off people who are engaging with services may be a better way to go,” he says.

By-Name List

The ‘By-Name List’ identifies homeless individuals from suburbs around Perth, updated on a weekly basis by forty different agencies.

By-Name List June data. Infographic: Olivia Di Iorio

WA Alliance to End Homelessness executive officer John Berger says this methodology has been used successfully around the globe.

“We now feel reasonably confident that who’s on the list is accurate and reflective,” he says.

“It’s more dynamic than the census. the census is only a snapshot.

“You can’t have static data, because what you collect on one day can change in six month’s time.”

Mr Berger says census officers are aware of the ‘By-Name List’, however still choose to collect data through their own means.

Lockdown Areas

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has had to adapt with the recent lockdowns across Australia

Homelessness NSW senior policy officer Digby Hughes says the usual routine of census officers interviewing and recording responses has been disrupted by the pandemic.

“There’s no face-to-face interviews due to lockdown orders, so now they’re just doing observational checking instead which means they’re driving around and observing a number of people,” he says.

“It’s obviously not as accurate as going around the streets and talking to people.”

“The rough sleeper count, the people who are actually on the street, will be majorly different,” he says.

Mr Hughes says since the recent NSW outbreak the state government has been moving people off the street into hotels and temporary accommodation, leaving a lower number of people on the street to be counted in the 2021 census.

Photo by Olivia Di Iorio

Temporary Measures During Pandemic

John Berger says there has been an increase in homelessness in the past year due to the end of the rent moratorium.

A Homelessness NSW report states there has been an absence of a national strategy in response to homelessness and COVID-19.

WA implemented the ‘Hotel with Hearts’ program in March 2020 for a month, accommodating thirty people who were homeless.

Boorloo Biddie Mia provides an immediate and culturally appropriate low-barrier accommodation response to rough sleeping. Photo by Olivia Di Iorio.

Mr Berger says the Department of Communities made a decision to not offer accommodation to the homeless.

“There were only some small, shorter initiatives that have emerged that are quite short and not large in number,” he says.

“The State Government has funded Boorloo Biddie Mia, which is a short stay accommodation for Aboriginal or First Nation peoples.”

The homeless facility had its first intake this week, after being provided $7.3 million over the past three years.

Mr Berger says there are temporary measures being taken during the Pandemic, but which he wants to make sure they turn into more permanent solutions for the homeless population.

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