Supportive housing is a package of assistance for tenants to address health and other needs as well as sustaining affordable tenancies, mostly in social housing. Some supportive housing is provided in a congregate (single) site context, but some providers use housing scattered across multiple locations with support provided through outreach workers. Tenants typically are highly vulnerable because of life experiences, such as trauma and dysfunctional families.

The project used a mix of methods including a survey of over 100 tenants in scattered-site and single-site supportive housing, and qualitative interviews with both tenants and tenancy and support providers in single-site supportive housing.

Support, in all the forms it assumed, was not fundamentally about support providers doing practical things for the tenant. Rather it was a practice mechanism for tenants to take greater control over the day-to-day functioning of their own lives. Providers sought to: improve habits and behaviours (e.g. being a good neighbour, keeping one’s property clean, paying rent, etc); foster responsibility and independent living skills that would last beyond supportive housing; and empower and normalise tenants with the goal to enable tenants to become functional and then to access normal housing.

Tenants of supportive housing were expected to, and often did, play roles in constructing the nature of support, especially in single site housing. An important factor in recovery from homelessness and other problems was to develop informal networks of support by neighbours, however, networks and socialising among neighbours could also undermine recovery efforts and contribute to or exacerbate personal problems.

Tenants described making a diverse range of life improvements and also attributed their positive life changes to the support they received. Key to this was the security and stability afforded to tenants because of the long-term nature of the housing provided, and many were able to sustain housing for at least 18 months. Its effectiveness and desirability was also due to its safety (many tenants had prior experiences of violence, intimidation and danger).

Supportive housing, be it single-site or scattered-site, is also more effective when it is a practical resource to address problems, when barriers to access support are removed, and when support is sufficiently broad to make opportunities available for tenants to exercise choices. It is also effective when tenure arrangements offer security so that tenants are provided opportunities to improve their lives and leave on their own terms.

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