So we know from the recent census data that there has been a sharp rise in family homelessness, with a 17 per cent increase in the number of homeless families between 2001 and 2006. In our experience, family homelessness is not homogenous, many families enter homelessness and are able to exit homelessness with minimal support, or with short-term supports that assist them to access subsidised housing.At the Brisbane Homelessness Service Centre, Micah Projects makes contact with x families, of these, we are able to support many to access public housing or the private rental market with short-term practical support and often, financial support.However, there are a number of families, who many of you will probably have supported who have cycled through the homelessness system, public and community housing, friends and relatives houses, and domestic violence shelters for years. Often leaving behind a trail of debt, and unfortunately, often becoming known to the Department of Child Safety.
An example of a family who have cycled through homelessness is Lisa, who has six children and we met in 2007 at the Brisbane Homelessness Service Centre when she was experiencing homelessness. This isn’t a photo of Lisa, but another family who have experienced homelessness.These children are all fathered by the man she first met when she was 12 years old, and who she consequently married in her mid twenties. When we first met Lisa in 2007, two of the children were living with grandparents, while four were living with her and her husband.Between 2002 and 2007 Lisa had two public housing tenancies with a debt of $14,000 and one community housing tenancy with a debt of several thousand. Inbetween she lived with friends and family, in DV refuge, a motel and a caravan park. Lisa’s cause of homelessness arise from family breakdown at an early age with domesticviolence in the home. The violence then became a pattern in her own relationships. The violence of her long term partner then husband is the reason for her debts to the Department of Housing and a housing provider.The level of domestic violence escalated against her and then against her eldest child, and in 2007, her children were placed in the care of the Department of Child Safety.Lisa’s case was analysed with her consent by the Carolyn Mason and Walter Robb in a research projects called “Journeys Through Homelessness: Whose Evidence?” They estimated that Lisa has cost the State Government over $100,000 from 2002 to 2006 for a range of services, particularly police, housing and child safety.In 2007, the year we met Lisa her cost to the system climbed, particularly after the children have been taken into care, with the costs estimated at $153,000 And in 2008, her costs are $150,000.
So what alternatives are available for Lisa?Felicity, highlighted that there are different supportive housing models, with one being a scattered site supportive housing.Scattered site supportive housing, is a model for intentionally linking support services with permanent housing scattered throughout the communityI should highlight that for scattered site housing, it is crucial that tenancies arelong-term and that rent is less than 30% of income – so preferably people are living in public or community housingSupport Services are outreach services to the home, and crucially...
Are housing focussed – Supporting families to meet their tenancy obligations – paying rent, being good neighbours, Minimising risk factors to tenancy breakdownThis requires support workers:To be in the home regularlyto have excellent relationships with landlords, with early alerts for problemsto know tenancy legislation and educate families about their rights and responsibilitiesTo understand risk factors for tenancy breakdown and work proactively with families to minimise these risk factors
This housing focussed support is closely linked to other outcomes that we seek to achieve for families, including:Outcomes for children – for example, opportunities for learning and developmentOutcomes for parents – for example, increased health and wellbeing, education & employmentObviously housing stability, enhances outcomes for parents and children, and change for parents and children helps to ensure that housing remains stable. For example, for a parent with depression, finding stable housing after an episode of homelessness, assists the parent to manage their depression. Managing depression better means that the parent feels able to respond to the rent review form they receive from their landlord and send it back, which means that their housing isn’t at risk.
The critical success factor for achieving change is that housing is long-term. In our experience as a service that has provided support services to families in the scattered site supportive housing model, and also provided crisis accommodation to families, time-limited accommodation is incredibly unsettling for parents and children and this continued instability hampers efforts to address issues that underlie a family’s homelessness.It is particularly difficult for children, who in medium-term accommodation, settle into school or childcare, and then experience upheaval when they are again moved to long-term housing.It has been our experience as a support service provider that a scattered site model achieves far better outcomes for parents and their children. In 2006 – 2007, Micah received FaHCSIA funding under the National Homelessness Strategy to trial a scattered site supportive housing model with 46 families who had experienced repeat episodes of homelessness. Of these families, only 3 lost their housing. Most of these families are still housed today.
And what about Lisa, the woman who is estimated to have cost the system $125,000 in 2008. In 2008, Lisa received intensive support linked to community housing. This is the first time she has received housing-focussed support. Since then she has left her partner, and worked closely with the Department of Child Safety to have her children returned to her care.She was recently offered a 4 bedroom house with Department of Housing (despite having a $14000 debt) and her eldest son has been returned to her care and they are working on a plan to reunify her with the rest of her children.The cost of this supportive housing intervention for Lisa and the children is estimated at $25,000And the benefits for herself and her children are in the words of Mastercard – Priceless!
Briannon Stevens Micah
Permanent Supportive Housing for Families<br />Briannon Stevens<br />Innovation, Research and Evaluation<br />