02:31am Monday 21 October 2019

Study shows tackling chronic homelessness requires long-term investment

The report Meeting the challenge? Transitions out of long-term homelessness is the world’s first cost-benefit analysis of a program working to end long-term homeless.

It evaluates the first 24 months of Journey to Social Inclusion, a three-year pilot project that provides intensive support to 40 people and compares their outcomes with those of a control group who are using existing services.

It was developed by Sacred Heart Mission in recognition that the current service system is costly and rarely assists people to permanently break cycles of chronic and long-term homelessness.

The pilot provides participants with three years of intensive support, rapid access to housing, responds to a range of complex needs, in particular enduring mental health issues, and focuses on building their skills to reconnect with the community, including in the area of employment and training.

The evaluation shows that while participants’ circumstances have already improved in many areas, it takes significant time and investment to address the underlying causes of homelessness and to enable people to turn their life around when they have endured a deprived and traumatic existence for many years.

Two years into the pilot, the number of people who have safe and secure housing is 86 per cent, up from 12 per cent at the start of the pilot. Importantly, most of these tenancies have been maintained for a significant length of time.

In addition, participants are using costly health services less often. This suggests that access to stable housing and targeted support can generate substantial reductions in the use of expensive emergency departments and in-patient units, both general and psychiatric.

The participants also report substantial improvements to their emotional and physical health and they are participating more in the labour force.

The report also found a substantial decline in the demand on the justice system with the number of days spent incarcerated decreasing from 12 in the first six months to three in last six months.

An unexpected development of the pilot is that through life skills training, people are participating more in the labour force and training than anticipated.

Co-author of the report and Senior Research Fellow with the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute at RMIT, Dr Guy Johnson, said the report showed that people who had been long-term homeless could maintain housing and live better lives.

“The initial investment is high and at the moment our cost-benefit analysis shows that the short-term costs to government and society outweigh the benefits,” Dr Johnson said.

“However, our results show that it is highly likely that in the longer term this position will be reversed, with savings for the community.”

Sacred Heart Mission CEO Cathy Humphrey said that the modest improvements in participants’ feelings of connection and acceptance by society highlighted the challenges of re-integrating people back into the mainstream community.

“The challenge is not getting the housing, but maintaining it. It is a formidable experience leaving behind the familiar, albeit frightening world of homelessness and having to make new friends, develop new routines, adjust and learn new ways of connecting with the community.

“This is why ensuring the transition out of homelessness is a permanent one requires significant time and resources. Overall indicators are promising that the J2SI model is assisting participants to address their cycle of long-term homelessness and reducing costs associated with expensive health, homelessness and justice services. These promising signs support further trialling of the model.

“Long-term homeless is not an intractable social problem. This report shows that if we make the initial investment, there will be benefits in the long term; for government, society and importantly the individual.”

A copy of the report is available online.

What: Launch of Meeting the Challenge? Transitions out of long-term homelessness
Who: Minister for Homelessness, Housing and Small Business, Brendan O’Connor
Dr Guy Johnson, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, RMIT University
Where: RMIT University, Emily McPherson Building, Building 13, Level 3, room 07 (multi-function room), corner Russell and Victoria streets, Melbourne
When: 10am, Wednesday, 5 December

For more information contact:

Gosia Kaszubska, Communications Adviser, RMIT University, (03) 9925 3176, 0417 510 735 or gosia.kaszubska@rmit.edu.au

Sharon Torney, Manager, Fundraising and Communications, Sacred Heart Mission, (03) 9536 8433, 0412 227 843 or storney@sacredheartmission.org

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