October 25, 2017

Ending homelessness; one life at a time

The very idea of James* maintaining a stable life in long-term accommodation seemed near impossible just six months ago – especially to James himself. The insulin-dependent man in his mid-40s had been living rough on Perth’s streets for several years, frequently presenting at hospital for his medication. He didn’t have the skills or confidence to maintain his own body, let alone a home.

But James is one of more than 70 people who have been successfully housed and supported as a result of the ‘50 Lives 50 Homes project, a collaboration-driven initiative to respond to homelessness in Perth at the coalface.

Foundation Housing, one of 27 organisations in the project team led by Ruah Community Services, found an apartment that was right for James and has helped him acquire the skills and desire to look after both the property and himself.

“It’s been the best possible outcome for James and his story really exemplifies what the program is about,” says Foundation Housing Allocations Manager Leah Vanlith. “I very much doubt James will ever go back into homelessness as he has the skills now to maintain stable accommodation and to administer his own medication at home.”

Time to act decisively

50 Lives 50 Homes quickly exceeded its target of housing 50 highly vulnerable rough sleepers, with Foundation Housing providing homes for five people and securing another five to be taken up as required. The program is now ongoing, subject to the availability of suitable homes.

Integral to 50L50H is the provision of wraparound and after-hours support services to ensure people don’t fall back into homelessness.

Foundation Housing CEO Kathleen Gregory says the program is one of several delivering tangible results at a time when WA should no longer accept the existence of a homelessness problem.

“That a state as rich in resources and talent should still have as many as 10,000 people who are homeless on any one night during the year reduces us in many ways,” Gregory says, “The 50L50H project has worked swiftly and effectively so far and clearly demonstrates that targeted, collaborative action can achieve results.

“This initiative is providing a lot of learnings for the sector and for the community as a whole.”

Teamwork proves critical

Leah Vanlith says collaboration and communication have underpinned 50L50H’s success so far.

“From our perspective at Foundation Housing, the full wraparound support provided by the key agencies and the way they link in together – that’s been critical to the program and is clearly measurable by such indicators as reduced hospital visits,” she says.

With 75% of 50L50H participants having ‘tri-morbidity’ (mental health, substance abuse and physical health problems), most presented at emergency departments at least 5.5 times a year before 50L50H. One of the key drivers of the program is to fix the revolving door between homelessness and health.

“Early communication is also key,” Vanlith says. “The quicker support agencies can flag any problems with a new tenancy, the easier it is for us to then work with the client to address those issues, the greater the chance of long-term success.

“Many of these people may not have had their own home or have not lived in a home for a considerable period of time and it’s important to take that into consideration and give them the time and support they need to adjust.

“It’s time-consuming and it requires more involvement by many parties but the result is better outcomes.

“There are no quick fixes to an issue this complex, which is why the commitment of all the organisations is so important.”

Foundation Housing is now exploring opportunities to build on the success of the 50L50H programme to fast track available private rental homes to those in need. This will involve the creation of a leasing agency that benefits those seeking community housing – a model that has had success in the Eastern States, as well as overseas. Funding has been secured to take this forward and we look forward to reporting on developments as they happen

* Name changed to protect client’s identity.