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Homelessness definition

The New Zealand definition of homelessness was developed to be adopted and applied by a wide range of users. In a country where housing services are delivered by a range of providers in both government and the community, the definition aims to assist those diverse organisations develop consistent approaches to collecting and reporting data.

Context for use

The definition is based on the concepts of the ETHOS typology, a framework used by European statistical offices. Following consultation, the ETHOS categories have been narrowed down and adapted for the New Zealand environment. This has removed some categories considered to define people ‘at risk’ but who are not actually homeless. Other categories, such as sharing accommodation and living in uninhabitable housing, represent ‘concealed’ homelessness and have been included in the definition, as these situations were judged to be within the bounds of information that might be useful in assessing policy options. The definition maintains comparability with both the ETHOS and the Australian definitions of homelessness.

As well as applying to administrative data sources where people’s living situations have been assessed in accordance with the definition, the definition may also apply to surveys where a similar assessment has been undertaken.

The definition is only an initial step towards measuring homelessness. Examples of other issues to be addressed in developing a more complete understanding of this issue include:

  • Only those homeless people who have contact with a housing service, other agency or researcher may be able to be included in the homeless count, resulting in a significant potential for undercoverage.
  • There is currently no means of centralising the administrative data held by different organisations.
  • Where data or information from different service providers is combined together there is a danger of overstating the number of homeless people, as any individual may have had contact with several organisations.

The current definition does not purport to be a full and final definition of all information that may be relevant in relation to homelessness, and the associated classification is draft only. Statistics New Zealand will continue to monitor and review the definition over time so that any gaps can be identified and refinements applied where necessary.

Published July 2009

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