04/08/2022 - 10:23

Lose your home, lose hope – the double edged sword at the heart of homelessness

04/08/2022 - 10:23

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Homelessness Week 2022

Lose your home, lose hope – the double edged sword at the heart of homelessness

St Patrick’s Community Support Centre (St Pat’s) has been supporting people at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness for 50 years. It works in partnership with government and human services agencies, businesses and the broader community to provide a range of high-quality services delivered to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

“As a registered community housing provider, we provide accommodation for single men and women aged over 16, couples and families,” said St Pat’s CEO, Michael Piu.

“Traditionally, our accommodation has been transitional, providing a short- to medium-term place for people to live while they get back on their feet. However, for some, this accommodation is their preferred long-term home, and diversifying housing stock is an area of focus for St Pat’s.

“That’s why we’re involved in a number of innovative projects to increase the range of options to meet long term housing needs for people exiting homelessness, through both new builds, and mechanisms to increase access to the private housing market.

“These include our partnership with My Home Australasia which is an example of the Private Public Partnership (PPP) model and utilises vacant public land to build long-term housing utilising modular technology which is of a high quality and energy efficiency,” said Mr Piu.

St Pat’s is the lead agency on a number of assertive outreach and intensive case management programs. Outreach means that their staff are active in the community, connecting with people who are experiencing rough sleeping to provide tailored support for as long as required and assisting people experiencing homelessness into appropriate, stable and secure housing.

Long-term housing the key

With a commitment to a ‘Housing First’ approach, St Pat’s has adopted this model which is being increasingly recognised across the community services sector and underpins many strategies here in Australia, including All Paths Lead to a Home: Western Australia’s 10-Year Strategy on Homelessness 2020-2030.

“Housing First does what it says on the tin,” said Mr Piu. “It prioritises getting people into permanent housing first and then providing ongoing supports to help people address the often highly-complex challenges which have led them to homelessness.

“It’s important these supports are ongoing, flexible and individualised, responding according to the needs and the goals of the person they’re there to help rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Evidence shows that when people are put into housing without supports, or when we prioritise availability over the needs and wants of the person, we aren’t setting people up for success.

“Empowering people to choose how and where they live their lives and respecting personal autonomy is vital, not just because it helps people recover and regain independence but because everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and have the chance to walk their own path,” said Mr Piu, is also on the Shelter WA Board.

“The key strategy to end homelessness remains to increase the number of long-term homes. Either through the construction of new social housing, diversifying the type of accommodations available or mechanisms which increase the ability of people on low incomes to access the private housing market.

“The number of people needing urgent access to housing is only increasing and while we can enact other strategies to help people in the short-term, to end chronic homelessness we need to give people long-term, dignified and appropriate homes.”

The hidden homeless

Mosaic CEO Pippa Cebis is committed to continuing to lift up those people experiencing homelessness who don’t garner the headlines – people with a disability.

“Of the 9,000 Western Australians currently experiencing homelessness, more than 25% identify as having a psychosocial disability and an additional 5% are living with another form of disability,” said Ms Cebis.  

“I urge the new Minister for Housing and Homelessness, the Hon Julie Collins MP, to consider these people and their specific accommodation and support needs in future planning to address the homelessness crisis.”

Uniting WA will also amplify the voices of those who are experiencing vulnerability or hardship during Homelessness Week 2022 – and beyond.

Michael Chester, Co-CEO of Uniting WA, believes the way to end homelessness requires the system to provide support along a housing continuum to enable people transitioning from crisis accommodation to obtain access to housing that offers a supportive landlord approach and light touch support.

“This will enable them to build capacity, independent living skills and facilitate them to take the next step towards safe and secure long-term housing. For some, it might just be the step they need before achieving complete independence. For others, it may mean that they remain housed in a supported environment indefinitely.”

Beyond these first steps however, there needs to be a longer, more sophisticated vision of how to support those caught in the vicious cycle of homelessness, particularly for those in minority groups.

“We need support for targeted solutions for overrepresented and vulnerable cohorts,” said Mr Chester.

“Community service organisations, like Uniting, have insights from working directly with people experiencing homelessness, as well as access to sector research that highlights which groups are facing increased vulnerability and where more resources are required.

“In Western Australia, our Uniting outreach teams have determined that a significant proportion of those sleeping rough in Perth are patients or their companions who have travelled from northern parts of WA for medical treatment and subsequently missed flights home or encountered other circumstances that have prevented their return home.”

In response, Uniting has adapted their service provision at Koort Boodja to help people Return to Country.

Similarly, Uniting and Housing All Australian’s Wyn Carr Project will transform Wyn Carr House into transitional supported accommodation targeting women over-55 who are at-risk of or experiencing homelessness. This group has become the fastest growing category of people experiencing homelessness in Australia.

Ongoing support and government funding is required to enable these targeted and transformative projects, asserts Mr Chester. Currently the Return to Country services are subsidised by Uniting and not government funded. Homelessness services need to be fully funded as a matter of urgency.

Collaboration is key

The need to increase collaboration across government, the private sector and NFPs is vital.

“Changing our approach to housing and homelessness will deliver benefits to the State by reducing the financial burden on the Health and Justice systems, as well as the community services sector and deliver lasting social benefits to the broader community,” said Uniting WA’s Mr Chester.

“We urge Minister Collins to implement a National Strategy to End Homelessness as recommended by the recent Inquiry into homelessness in Australia,” he said.

“The former Morrison government rejected the call for a National Strategy and stated it would fully support only two of the 35 recommendations made by the bipartisan committee.

“Ending homelessness requires strong, bipartisan, national, state and local political leadership. We currently have a 10-Year Strategy on Homelessness in Western Australia, and this should be matched by the Commonwealth.”

Foodbank WA would like the new Minister to experience the frontline, to see for herself the challenges community service NFPs face each day.

“Seeing what we are all trying to minimise and change will be so powerful in any next steps the government can take,” said Foodbank WA’s CEO Kate O’Hara.

“It would also help to gather the latest data we all have on what we are seeing in and around homelessness. It’s a complex issue that has many compounding factors for each person.

As the economy is squeezed and members of the community who have never considered themselves at risk of becoming homeless face bleak futures, the time is now to have a plan – and to implement it without delay.

“People of all ages, genders and backgrounds can, and do, experience homelessness,” St Bart’s Chief Executive Officer Samantha Drury said.

“While the causes of homelessness differ from person to person, what links those experiencing it is that it is not deserved, it is not inevitable, and it is not their fault.”

To find out more, visit homelessnessaustralia.org.au/

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