Home-grown solution key to solving long-term homelessness

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By Matt Barnett

The Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI) program released its final evaluation report in April. It was a program run by the Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda, designed to end chronic homelessness for a group of 40 participants.

The 40 participants received intensive services from case workers and were measured against a control group of 43 participants receiving existing services. The program or ‘pilot’ ran for 3 years and was independently evaluated by RMIT and Melbourne University and is the first of its kind to undertake a randomised control trial measuring participants against a control group.

The report found that the overall housing circumstances of group J (the journey to social inclusion participants) were superior to those in the control group after the first 3 years. After 36 months months 85% of group J were in independent housing, while less than half (41%) of group E (the control group) were housed. J2SI participants were housed for 67% of the time and two thirds (66%) had been housed for 2 years or more. In contrast, those in Group E were, on average, housed for just over one 1/3rd (35%) of the trial. Further examination of the data revealed that nearly 1/3rd (31%) of those in group E had remained homeless during the entire trial period (the corresponding figure in Group J was 7%), and another 10% had been housed in total for 6 months or less (in group J it was 3%).

The report found that the mental health of the J2SI participants improved over time. Emotional well- being was measured using a Depression Anxiety and Stress scale which showed a consistent decline in depression and anxiety, though at the end of the trial stress increased. There is conjecture that this happened resulting in participant’s recognising the end of the trial. Group E’s (the control group) results were far more volatile and did decline but nowhere near as much as group J’s.

The percentage of those experiencing bodily pain dropped in the j2SI group dropped by more than double the rate reported by the control group.

The most extreme health outcome among participants was the mortality rate. Research shows that the mortality rate among the homeless, particularly the long-term homeless, is higher than the general community. The mortality rate in Group J was half of what was reported in Group E. After 36 months 3 Group E participants had passed away, as had 1 Group J participant. In the next 12 months another 2 participants passed away, one from each group.

After 48 months Group J’s use of emergency hospital services has declined by 80%, while the control group’s increased by 21%.

It is arguable that the major societal benefit of the J2SI program is in the reduction of health services and accommodation and support services. Overall, the economic benefit to society for the J2SI intervention is measured at approximately $35, 000 per participant respectively, or a net benefit of, for every dollar invested, the return or savings to the community is $1.50.

All of this evidence suggests that the cycle of long-term homelessness can be broken with solutions found right here in our own back-yard. CEO of Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda, Cathy Humphrey said “Long-term and chronic homelessness presents quite a different challenge to short-term homelessness. The effects on the individual, society and economy are costly and complex, with the cycle being harder to break the longer the person has been in that situation. J2SI found that developing a sustained trusting relationship between a case-worker and a participant, addressing the trauma that causes a person to fall into the cycle of homelessness is critical, alongside access to safe affordable housing.”

“However, as every person is different, there is no one size fits all model to solving homelessness, so the solution must be individualised. These people are entrenched in a systemic cycle of disadvantage and require significant support to unpack the effects of a lifetime of disadvantage, and to rebuild a future.”

“Our study shows that with the right investment, significant breakthroughs can be delivered and measured in order to address the bigger picture issue of homelessness across Australia. The program’s holistic approach has resulted in a significant reduction in the use of costly, emergency health services, placing less strain on public services and government.”

MP Martin Foley, Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, who is officially launching the report on April 30 at the Royal College of Australians Surgeons, said, “The Andrews Labor Government strongly believes in working with community organisations like Sacred Heart to develop strategies that break the cycle of homelessness and improve support to homeless people.”

“As both the member for Albert Park and Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, I am proud of the outstanding work done locally by Sacred Heart Mission with the many Homeless people in my local area. I am also proud to have such world-leading research on such an important issue produced in my local community.”

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