April 10, 2017

Five barriers that stop people moving on from a lodging house

Foundation Housing manages 406 rooms in 16 separate lodges in Perth and Fremantle in Western Australia and sees first hand some of the common barriers preventing people from moving on from this ‘entry level’ form of social housing.

Most lodging accommodation offers residents a small room with a bed, fridge, and cupboard with access to a shared bathroom and kitchen. Lodging accommodation is often provided in the hope that residents will use the room as a stepping stone on their way out of trauma and homelessness.  For many though, it can become an indefinite home.

It’s the difficult reality that even if you are able to give a homeless person this kind of accommodation for a night, or even a month, they’re still likely to be dealing with a range of problems that will prevent them moving forward with their lives and which may even contribute to them becoming homeless again.

Here we look at some of the barriers to successfully transitioning from lodging into social housing or the private rental market and what we’ve implemented to try and overcome them.

Drug and alcohol addiction

Homelessness and substance abuse are closely linked as people self-medicate to deal with trauma.  Dealing with an addiction is difficult in even the most supportive of environments, let alone when you are sleeping rough.  Nor is addiction likely to end just because you are given a bed.   Access to immediate, free and confidential counselling is a critically important once you have somewhere to live and are ready to consider changes in your drug and alcohol use. On site drug and alcohol support services give people exiting homelessness who have an addiction a better chance of choosing to get help and reconnecting with what is meaningful in life.

Partnerships with drug and alcohol counsellors who can provide outreach clinics, such as the weekly one our partners Palmerston operate at Hampton Road, are the most practical way to do this.

Poor dental health

Poor dental health is one of the most detrimental, but least understood, aspects affecting people experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Cost is one barrier to accessing regular dental care, but so is a generally chaotic life, anxiety, mental health issues and substance misuse.  The impact of poor dental health is profound.  Having missing and rotten teeth erodes self-confidence, and the associated pain can lead to a dependence on subscription medication, which may in turn escalate into illicit drug use. Choosing food that is soft and processed, rather than fresh and crunchy means nutrition is often inadequate and this can lead to further health problems.

A  ‘street dentist’ service operating in a similar way to a ‘Street Doctor’ has the potential to have a significant positive impact on people seeking to exit lodging.

We’re currently working to secure a Street Dentist for residents our bigger lodging houses and keen to find other ways we can improve access to dental care for our residents.

Mental & Physical Health

Many people living in our lodges receive disability pensions because they have a chronic health condition or a mental illness. Physical and mental health conditions limit capacity to access education, training and employment.  In some cases, chronic conditions can be managed sufficiently to enable the person experiencing them to return to work, but for many these conditions are permanent to some degree.

All too often the treatment received by lodging residents does not address the root cause of the health issue, which perpetuates the cycle of disadvantage.  A deeper understanding of the drivers of each individual’s health issues are needed over and above simply dealing with the symptoms which present as a result of this unmet need.

It’s Foundation Housing’s belief that as a society, we need to do the right thing by this vulnerable group of people.  If lodging is the best long term proposition for them, we need to provide it to a standard that allows individuals to live with dignity, safety and access to services like public transport, so they can live the best life possible.

At our purpose built accommodation complex on Bennett St in East Perth, every resident has their own bathroom, kitchenette and balcony, demonstrates how this can be achieved within the lodging model. This is the standard all lodging should aspire to.

Fear and intimidation

Imagine how vulnerable you would feel if you had to shower in a shared bathroom with strangers.  Shared spaces in lodging facilities are where the lion’s share of assaults, robbery and intimidation take place.   Lodging houses are not institutions like prisons or boarding schools where a protective authority figure can intervene.  Lodging Houses are generally open to anyone over the age of 24 who meets the income limit criteria, irrespective of their background. While we as managers of lodging will evict residents who are proven to have behaved in violent or threatening ways, we know that all too often undesirable behaviour goes unreported and that this intimidation can take a heavy toll on the victims.  Intimidation  can lead to a loss of confidence, erode their self-worth and generally undermine progress in other areas.

Sensitive allocation of rooms, segregation of genders and adequate services to help modify the behaviour of perpetrators of intimidation are some of Foundation Housing pilot initiatives to achieve better outcomes for our residents.

Social isolation

The absence of healthy and supportive social connection is a significant barrier for many lodging residents.  All of above four factors may have contributed to their social isolation and added to this, the physical space they now live in is a difficult one into which welcome family and friends.   Feeling isolated, lonely or simply that you don’t belong anywhere is a difficult psychological barrier to overcome.

Opportunities to ‘join in’ organised activities like life skills classes and wellbeing activities within the communal spaces in lodging houses help residents to socialise together and an contribute to an overall better standard of accommodation that engenders pride rather than embarrassment, are all tangible steps that help build connection.

Join Foundation Housing’s network of support partnerships that are delivering safer, healthier and more secure services to our lodging residents which promote their wellbeing and recovery.  Contact Tom Tolchard on tom@foundationhousing.org.au or call 08 9422 0700.