General Social Survey

The General Social Survey (GSS) is a multidimensional social survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which provides information on a wide range of key areas of concern for Australians. It helps to build a picture of the social characteristics of the population and allows for better understanding of the relationships between different aspects of life and how these affect people, including the exploration of multiple advantage and disadvantage.

The latest GSS was conducted from August to November 2010. The survey collected information from 15,028 adults aged 18 years and over living in private dwellings across Australia, excluding very remote areas.

The 2010 GSS included, for the first time, a module on previous experiences of homelessness and being without a permanent place to live.  The GSS provides information on people who have been homeless in the past but who are now usual residents of private dwellings. As the GSS only enumerates usual residents of private dwellings, it will not include: people currently living in shelters; people sleeping rough; people ‘couch surfing’ (staying temporarily with other households); nor people staying in boarding houses. It may include some people staying in Transitional Housing Management (THM) properties, if the adult staying there at the time of the survey considered that it was their usual residence at that time (THMs have been included in researcher estimates of the homeless).

In GSS, Homelessness is defined as a reported period in the past when the respondent had no permanent place to live as a result of:

  •  violence/abuse/neglect;
  • tight housing market/rental market;
  • family/friend/relationship problems;
  • financial problems;
  • alcohol or drug use;
  • mental illness;
  • gambling;
  • job loss;
  • eviction; and
  • natural disasters.

The key findings on Housing mobility and Homelessness in the 2010 GSS include:

  • Approximately 7 million adults (42%) had moved house in the 5 years prior to the survey;
  • Young people, renters and unemployed people were the most likely to move;
  • 4.6 million people (27%) reported that, for a wide range of reasons, they had been without a permanent place to live at some time in their lives. Reasons included recently moving to a new town, relationship breakdowns and financial problems. 2.1 million of the adults who had experienced a period without a permanent place to live were classified as having experienced homelessness at some time in their lives.  Common reasons included: family, friend or relationship problems (50%), tight housing or rental markets (23%) and financial problems (22%).
  • Just over 1.1 million people had experienced at least one episode of homelessness in the previous 10 years.
  • Of these people, 40% sought assistance from a service provider while they were homeless, most approaching housing service providers.
  • Of the 60% who did not seek assistance from service organisations, 81% of them did not seek assistance because they did not feel they needed it.
  • For the most recent period of homelessness in the past 10 years, 13% were homeless for less than a week. A further 6% were homeless for less than 2 weeks, and another 12% were homeless for less than 4 weeks. However, 22% had spent 6 months or more without a permanent place to live.
  • In 2010, according to the GSS, 251,000 people aged 18 years or over were estimated to have experienced homelessness in the previous 12 months.

The article, Life after Homelessness published in the March 2012 edition of the ABS’ Australian Social Trends uses the 2010 General Social Survey and examines a range of socio-economic indicators of those who had experienced at least one episode of homelessness in the last 10 years but were no longer homeless, and compares them to those who have never been homeless. It does not examine causal relationships between homelessness and people’s circumstances.

Some of the findings include:

  • Those who have experienced homelessness in the last 10 years were less likely to have a Bachelor degree or higher (17%) compared to those who had never been homeless (24%).
  • Those who have experienced homelessness in the last 10 years were more likely to be unemployed (9%) compared to those who had never been homeless (3%)
  • Those who have experienced homelessness in the last 10 years were twice as likely to report their main source of personal income was a government benefit or allowance (48%) compared to those who had never been homeless (24%)
  • Three in five (59%) adults who had experienced at least one episode of homelessness in the last 10 years were in the bottom 40% of household income distribution (after adjusting gross household incomes for household size and composition) compared with 36% who had never been homeless
  • 23% of people who had experienced homelessness in the last 10 years lived in a household who reported three or more different types of cash flow problems, compared with 5% who had never been homeless.
  • One in ten adults who had been homeless in the last 10 years reported that a member of their household went without meals compared with 1% of people who had never been homeless.