Are homes the solution to homelessness

Providing homes to the homeless is Brisbane’s new strategy. Source: Anna J. James


It’s a solution so obvious that it just might work: providing homes to the homeless.

Earlier this month, Brisbane community service, West End-based Micah Projects launched the Housing First Roadmap, a homelessness model that lists housing as its first priority.

With the support of U.S. organisation, Community Solutions, Micah Projects is turning the standard approach to homeless on its head by giving out homes, first.

U.S. James Surowiecki wrote for The New Yorker  about the ‘Housing First’ methodology trialed in Utah, “Most of them [homeless people] had mental-health or substance-abuse issues, or both. At the time, the standard approach was to try to make homeless people “housing ready”: first, you got people into shelters or halfway houses and put them into treatment; only when they made progress could they get a chance at permanent housing,”

“The old model assumed that before you could put people into permanent homes you had to deal with their underlying issues.”

The Housing First Roadmap is a part of 500 Lives 500 Homes, a collaborative housing campaign involving 34 agencies including the Queensland government, Brisbane City Council and Micah Projects.

“We want to break down those myths that homeless people don’t want to be housed, or that they’re incapable of sustaining tenancy,” said Karyn Walsh, CEO of Micah Projects.

At the last, 2011 census there were 4324 people homeless in Brisbane, 168 of whom were sleeping rough or in improvised dwellings. So far, ‘500 Lives 500 Houses’ have secured appropriate accommodation for 410 chronically homeless clients.

Micah Projects employs an online system to monitor applicants on the public housing list, detailing their special support needs, or “vulnerabilities”, including medical care.

“Brisbane is a gentrified, prosperous city who is losing track of affordability,” said Walsh, who said that even full-time income earners are priced out of inner city living.

“Due to gentrification, increased regulations to boarding houses and a decrease in the number of cheaper places for people to live, demand for affordable housing is outgrowing availability,” said Walsh.

“Our methodology is making sure we know by name who is actually on streets, in cars, motels and boarding houses. We track their progress and work with them to find them a solution,” said Walsh, stating some clients need support to maintain their application, which can take years to come to fruition.

“We connect up with what people need in housing; if they have children in a particular school, or they should be closer to the hospitals. For seniors, we assess mobility issues, ground floor access. If they’re escaping domestic violence, make sure the house they get is safe,” said Walsh.

“The government needs to get involved by building more units and houses for those who are low income and in need, even by investing in the private market,” said Walsh.

Micah Projects aims to marry outreach, in-home services with appropriate housing.

“Our clients suffer from acute cancer, addiction, disease. This is a better outcome for the health system. It saves hospitals.”

A report conducted by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) in 2016 founded that the provision of public housing for homeless and at risk of homelessness people may save $5,000 per person each year in health costs alone.

Historically, housing first projects have proven to the cost-effective, long-term solution to chronic homelessness.

In 1992, a psychologist at New York University, Sam Tsemberis, turned the homelessness model on its head by offering permanent housing to those in need, no questions asked.

Tsemberis, along with Pathways to Housing, provided apartments to 242 chronically homeless individuals, on the sole condition that they didn’t harm anyone or bother their neighbors.

Outreach services including medical and drug rehabilitation were offered, at the client’s discretion.

It worked. After five years, 88 per cent of the clients were still in their apartments, at a fraction of the cost it would have taken to care for them on the street.

Anna J. James

Anna returned to Griffith after a five-year stint as a journalist. Through long-form Anna navigates the dark: homelessness, addiction, prison, crime and the Yankees.

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