Long-term homelessness: Understanding the challenge

Homelessness Social security Employment Poverty Social issues Housing Social inclusion Australia

An RMIT University research project with Sacred Heart Mission comparing two groups of chronically homeless people has shown the shortfalls of the current system.

Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI) is a pilot program designed to break the cycle of long-term homelessness. The program provides intensive support for up to three years to assist long-term homeless people receive the range of services they need. The J2SI model contrasts with existing services that tend to be short-term responses which do not address the underlying issues causing long-term homelessness.
This is the first of four reports evaluating the J2SI program. It documents preliminary outcomes from the first 12 months of a randomised controlled trial evaluating J2SI’s effectiveness. The evaluation tracks the outcomes of J2SI participants over time. The randomised control trial approach then compares their outcomes with those of a comparison group who are being supported by existing services.
The report reveals the extent of the problems faced by those who are amongst the most disadvantaged in our society. People who are long-term homeless almost always have traumatic childhoods (87%). Virtually all grew up in poverty, and experienced major and often repeated childhood trauma such as sexual or physical abuse, the involvement of child protection, or an experience of homelessness at a young age. Over 90% now have chronic ill health and drug and alcohol problems and over three quarters have been physically assaulted at some point in their lives. None have paid employment and most have not worked for five years or more. Traditional service responses may assist some who are long-term homeless to find stable housing, but most do not.
Even at this early stage, there are signs that the J2SI program is assisting participants to overcome their disadvantages. Relative to the comparison group,many more now have permanent housing (75% vs. 30%) and they are using expensive acute physical, mental health and homelessness services less often. A few have started paid employment.
This report makes plain the extent of the challenges facing people who are long-term homeless. Over the next three years we will track whether the approach adopted by J2SI provides a permanent solution to longterm homelessness. Future evaluation reports will assess program outcomes after 2, 3 and 4 years, and whether the benefits justify the costs.
Authors: Guy Johnson, Sharon Parkinson, Yi-Ping Tseng, Daniel Kuehnle

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