The role of assertive outreach in ending 'rough sleeping'

19 Jan 2012

The study sought to examine how assertive outreach has been conceptualized and implemented in practice in Australia, and the extent to which it is achieving its policy intent. It did this by drawing on evidence from policy-makers, service providers and service users, through three case studies in Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin.

In Sydney and Brisbane, assertive outreach involves the deliberate and strategic attempt to end a person’s homelessness. It is usually presented as a model to achieve sustainable solutions to homelessness through a Housing First philosophy. Assertive outreach draws from previous approaches by involving street based outreach, but also follow up outreach in the home (similar to supported housing or tenancy management). A distinguishing feature is its use of multi-disciplinary teams, access to specialist health professionals and availability of permanent stable housing. However in Darwin, assertive outreach is aimed at addressing anti-social behavior and a return to country (for Indigenous people who have home communities in other settlements) rather than ending homelessness and so does not have this same approach. 

The evidence from Sydney and Brisbane is that there has been progress in implementing assertive outreach programs, and they have achieved some early success. Some of the most vulnerable rough sleepers in those cities have been assisted to move to stable housing, and more could have been assisted if the housing was available. Furthermore, according to service providers in Brisbane, only 7 per cent of tenancies break down and in most of these cases, transfers to alternative housing options have been achieved.

The study outlines seven principles that should underpin assertive outreach policies and practices in Australia into the future. Of key importance for housing policy-makers is that for assertive outreach to work there must be clear pathways for timely access to appropriate, stable and affordable housing for service users, and decisions about the most appropriate housing options exiting rough sleeping should be informed by research evidence.

Image: Ant Smith / flickr

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