A Definition

Homelessness: a definition

There are many definitions of what it means to be homeless, but the most widely accepted definition of homelessness comprises three categories, which capture the diversity of homelessness experiences.

  1. Primary homelessness – is when people don’t have conventional accommodation. For example, sleeping rough or in improvised dwellings like sleeping in their car.
  2. Secondary homelessness – is when people are forced to move from one temporary shelter to another. For example, moving between emergency accommodation and refuges. This includes ‘couch surfing’ which is when someone ‘crashes’ at the home of a friend or relative.
  3. Tertiary homelessness – is when people live in accommodation that falls below minimum standards. This can be a boarding house or caravan park, or a household that is severely overcrowded.

This cultural definition was developed by Mackenzie and Chamberlain in 1992 and adopted by the Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Homelessness in 2001 and is widely used in the homelessness sector. (*Homelessness Australia)

According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics census data (2011) on Housing and Population, there are just over 105,000 people described as homeless in Australia.