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‘Check your mailbox’: $222 Census reminder for Aussies

·3-min read
Pedestrians in Sydney, tent city in Martin Place Sydney.
Homelessness advocates are calling for all residents to fill in the Census accurately. (Images: Getty).

If you didn’t have plans for tonight, you do now: it’s Census night, and failure to fill in your Census form could land you with a $222 fine.

But that isn’t the only cost.

Charities are also reminding Australians that failure to fill out a Census form also carries a human cost.

“We use the Census and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data to gain insights about what's been happening in Australia, the spread and depths of socioeconomic disadvantages, and how the general population is doing compared to people helped by the Salvos,” Salvation Army research manager Johana Susanto said.

“We also use this information for advocacy and campaigns, as well as providing useful information for leadership and frontline services in their planning. It is invaluable in helping people with practical, emotional and spiritual support.”

WATCH: Three facts about the Australian property market.

She said the ABS data informs the Salvation Army’s decisions around how best to support people experiencing homelessness, poverty and financial stress.

Information from the Census will more broadly be used to plan and fund emergency shelters, transitional housing and domestic violence programs, 2021 Census Inclusive Strategies director Georgia Chapman said.

She said the ABS is working with state and local governments and the homelessness sector to ensure people can safely fill in their Census responses.

Homelessness a Census focus

Charities are also calling on people experiencing homelessness to accurately record this on their Census forms.

The 2016 Census showed 116,427 people were homeless, which the ABS considers as living in an inadequate dwelling, where they have no tenure or their tenure is short, or if they have no access to space for social relations.

That means homelessness includes people sleeping in their cars, couch surfing or living in overcrowded dwellings, in addition to rough sleeping.

“The bigger picture is that most people and families experiencing homelessness are hidden from plain sight. We know from the most recent Census data that the majority are living in severely crowded dwellings, couch surfing temporarily with friends or family, or living in crisis accommodation, a shelter, refuge or boarding house,” Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said.

“To gauge the severity of the problem in 2021 and better understand how COVID-19 and the housing crisis has affected homelessness numbers in Australia, we call on everyone who is living in insecure, unsafe and temporary places to participate in the Census and have their voices counted.”

He said people experiencing homelessness should answer the ‘Where does the person usually live’, with ‘NONE’ as their suburb.

“By accurately reporting the scale of the homelessness problem in Australia, we can gain a greater understanding of what actions are sorely needed to end homelessness in our nation altogether.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to increase homelessness rates, he added, warning that many Mission Australia services are already at capacity due to a severe lack of affordable rentals in Australia.

Domestic violence, family breakdowns, job loss and psychological distress are also common triggers for homelessness.

“On the frontline, we’re seeing far too many people and families being pushed into homelessness, many for the first time in their lives. They’re living in overcrowded homes, crisis accommodation, or even in tents or their car. They might be sleeping in their relative’s shed or on their grandchildren’s bedroom floor,” Toomey said.

“We are still dealing with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and in many states and territories, too many people are on the cusp of homelessness as they grapple with escalating rents, limited availability of affordable homes and the lifting of bans prohibiting evictions.”

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