Aboriginal peoples’ lived experience of household overcrowding in the Kimberley and implications for research reciprocity in COVID-19 recovery


Chicky Clements, Christine Hoy, Louis Bin-Maarus, Sarah Morris, Ray Christophers

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Volume 47, Issue 6, December 2023, 100104. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anzjph.2023.100104 


Household overcrowding was identified early in the COVID-19 pandemic as a risk factor increasing transmission and worsening outcomes. Nirrumbuk Environmental Health and Services designed this project to deepen understanding of Aboriginal peoples’ experiences of overcrowding in social housing.


Our household survey explored overcrowding, capacity to respond to COVID-19 directives and the Canadian National Overcrowding Standard (CNOS).


For 219 participating Aboriginal households, usual number of residents per household ranged from 1 to 14, increasing with short- and long-term visitors. 17.8% had occupants who themselves were on waiting lists for their own home. Nearly one-third of houses had three generations under one roof. 53.4% indicated isolation of COVID-19 cases as ‘extremely’ difficult. 33.8% indicated their community could not manage COVID-19 at scale. Overcrowding was defined by interpersonal dynamics or consequences such as plumbing blockages or conflict rather than the number or people or ratio of people to bedrooms. 64.8% welcomed CNOS to determine acceptable and healthy occupancy levels. Participants encouraged research about environmental health in Aboriginal hands.


Cultural obligations, poverty and social housing waitlist management impose extreme demand on remote housing. CNOS relevance was endorsed but tempered by lived experience.

Implications for Public Health

Aboriginal-led research is directly accountable to communities through reciprocity and kinship. Nirrumbuk has already modified service planning.