$1.2 million for long term homeless

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By Matt Barnett

The State Government announced funding of $1.2 million for a long term homelessness program, pioneered here in St Kilda.

According to the Sacred Heart Mission, there are 105, 000 Australians who are homeless, and of those, 22,000 are trapped in a cycle of long-term homelessness.

It has been discovered that, for each Australian who is homeless for a long-term period of time, it costs the community between $900,000 and $5.5 million.

Studies have shown that there is a strong connection between trauma and long-term homelessness. Many people who are long-term homeless report high levels of abuse and other traumatic experiences, often in childhood.

In 2009, Sacred Heart Mission conducted a three year evidence-based pilot program called ‘Journey to Social Inclusion’. It was designed to end chronic homelessness for a group of 20 participants.

The pilot program took a significant departure from existing approaches by providing intensive, long-term, integrated, wrap-around support. The participants were measured against a control group of 43 who only had access to existing services.

The report found that the overall housing circumstances of the Journey to Social Inclusion Participants were superior to those in the control group. After 36 months, 85% of the Journey to Social Inclusion participants were in independent housing, while less than half, 41% of the control group were housed.

The evaluation showed that without J2SI, participants would be using more expensive health and emergency services, have higher levels of incarceration, be less likely to be housed, and be more likely to die.

The study showed that the program produced a saving to the government of $32, 080 per participant.

The pilot showed that people with complex needs can live stable, fulfilling lives and be part of society.

Sacred Heart Mission has partnered with St Mary’s House of Welcome and VincentCare (Ozanam Community Centre) to test the scalability of the program across Melbourne’s inner-south and northern suburbs.

Commencing January 2016, J2SI is being offered to 60 people across a greater geographic area, with even greater cost saving for the community expected.

The Sacred Heart Mission is working to develop a licensing model so more people can be supported to exit long-term homelessness.

The Sacred Heart’s future vision is to have to J2SI program delivered by partner service providers under license across Australia.

The Victorian Labor Government has announced funding towards the second phase of the program of $1.2 m over three years. Martin Foley, the Minister for Housing, Disability, Ageing, Mental Health, and Equality and Creative Industries, announced the funding for the program, which contributes towards a third of the overall cost. The mission is investing the remainder itself, with a portion coming from philanthropy.

The program is being expanded from 40 to 60 participants and geographically beyond St Kilda to include Melbourne’s inner-north through partnerships with St Mary’s House of Welcome and VincentCARE (Ozanam Community Centre).

The recruitment of participants for the second phase is currently underway.

J2SI Manager Anna Paris said they have recruited almost half of the total participants to date and that while the participants’ pathways into homelessness are diverse, there are common themes.

‘Some have entered homelessness as youths after early childhood trauma and/or family breakdown, which has then led to chronic homelessness. Others have lived full lives, with employment and families, but multiple crises such as emerging mental illness and loss of employment, combined with a lack of affordable housing, has led them to becoming homeless in adulthood,’ she said.

Amongst the group, there is a high prevalence of major mental illness, poly-drug use, and people aged over 45, which demonstrates a need to test effective homelessness interventions for our growing aging population.

Anna said, ‘The participants are resilient, survivors, and have hopes and dreams for their lives. But also for some, they are distrusting that their hopes and dreams can be achieved as they have been let down repeatedly and been through multiple cycles of homelessness, whether over a few years, decades, or a lifetime.’

The CEO of Sacred Heart Mission, Cathy Humphrey says Sacred Heart Mission is pleased to have the backing of the Victorian Government.

‘Journey to Social Inclusion is setting a new benchmark for addressing long-term homelessness in Australia. It is different as it takes a relationship-based approach, provides long term support, and works from the premise that if people can sustain their housing and manage their complex health issues, this provides a solid foundation to the next steps of building skills, becoming part of the community and contributing to society. Ultimately J2SI saves lives, reduces reliance on the service system including expensive health and emergency services, and prevents people from being incarcerated.’

J2SI Intensive Case Manager Rob Telfer was part of the pilot and has returned for this second phase because he believes this is the right approach.

‘With regular case management you get to work with someone for 13 weeks. If you get lucky, you may secure housing for the person but you run out of time to support them to maintain their housing. This is vital if someone has been sleeping rough for years and has never really cooked or paid bills. If they fall out of housing, you’re not around to support them back in,’ Rob said.

‘Through the J2SI pilot, I worked with a middle-aged gentleman who had been homeless for 30 years and was always placed in housing that would fall down due to being unsuitable for his needs. As we had the time to work together and build a relationship, I was able to advocate on his behalf and through ongoing negotiations with a housing provider, secure long-term accommodation in a safer environment. He still lives there today.’

Professor Paul Flatau, Director, Centre of Social Impact said that his team is proud to undertake this long-term study.

‘The study will look not only at quantitative data, but importantly, qualitative data, to really understand the individual stories of those who experience chronic homelessness, and to make their transition into housing a sustainable one,’ he said.

‘This is without a doubt one of the most robust and extensive research studies on the impact of a critical intervention and support program that we have seen in Australia, and indeed around the world,’ Paul said.

Ms Humphrey said that this second stage is the key to demonstrating the scalability and replicability of J2SI with a view to rolling out the program in areas of high, chronic homelessness in Australia through a licensing arrangement with other agencies.

‘It’s estimated there are 22,000 Australians who are long-term homeless so J2SI is an opportunity to make a meaningful reduction,’ she said.

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