|dc.description.abstract||Homelessness is widely regarded as a serious social issue, a severe form of deprivation, and a clear threat to health and wellbeing. There is little agreement, however, on a fundamental matter – what the word ‘homelessness’ refers to. Different definitions are used across the world, meaning homelessness statistics reflect quite different populations that are poorly comparable across nations and over time.
This thesis examines existing definitions of homelessness and seeks to develop a more conceptually rigorous approach. Building on an implicit consensus in the literature that homelessness refers to severe housing deprivation (or a lack of access to minimally adequate housing), this thesis develops a detailed conceptual definition and classification grounded in both human rights and an understanding of homelessness as a form of poverty. This definition promotes interchanging (or even replacing) the word ‘homelessness’ with ‘severe housing deprivation’ – the latter providing a more accurate, less evocative description of the phenomenon. An operational definition is developed for identifying severely housing deprived people in New Zealand Census and emergency housing provider data. It identifies people as homeless based on their housing type, low income, and – for people in private dwellings – severe household crowding. This definition was applied to 2001 and 2006 data to produce New Zealand’s first severe housing deprivation statistics.
The point prevalence of severe housing deprivation in New Zealand in 2006 was at least 84 per 10,000 people, or about one in every 120 New Zealanders, having increased by nine percent since 2001. Two-thirds of all severely housing deprived people were sharing in severely crowded private houses, usually with family. More than half the severely housing deprived population were younger than 25 years of age, and half of these were younger than 15. Reflecting the known distribution of disadvantage in New Zealand, severe housing deprivation was associated with non-European ethnicity, being a new migrant, high residential mobility, being unemployed, being out of the labour force, having an unskilled job, and having a low level of education. However, contrary to traditional portrayals of homeless people as idle, socially disaffiliated outsiders, almost half of all severely housing deprived adults were engaged in employment, study, or both. About a third of all severely housing deprived adults were employed, but did not have the resources to access minimally adequate housing. This serves as a reminder that severe housing deprivation reflects the dysfunction of, and gaps between, systems of housing, employment, and social security.
This study contributes a conceptually rigorous methodology for measuring severe housing deprivation, and addresses a gap in knowledge about severe housing need in New Zealand. Using national, routinely collected data, it introduces a repeatable method for monitoring the issue in New Zealand, and a new benchmark for progress toward an internationally standardised measure of this important and poorly understood social issue.||