MARION BENNETT. Working together to end homelessness in Cairns

Sep 27, 2019

A new Mission Australia evaluation has highlighted that when people experiencing homelessness in Cairns have the support of strong, caring relationships and when services work collaboratively and seamlessly together, their standards of living and personal relationships improve, they feel safer and they are more positive about their future security.

These are the results from an evaluation involving 113 people who accessed Mission Australia’s homelessness services in Cairns in 2017-18. The evaluation demonstrates that those services are making a significant positive impact for the service users – both to improve their wellbeing and to develop the skills necessary to sustain a tenancy.

In Cairns, Mission Australia runs three services that are designed to provide accommodation and case management support for individuals who have histories of chronic homelessness and/or rough sleeping: Going Places Street to Home Homeless Program; Douglas House; and Woree Supported Housing Accommodation. Our evaluation also highlighted the positive impact of the Café One social enterprise program in providing people with a history of rough sleeping and chronic homelessness with opportunities for training and employment.

What the evaluation found

A key takeout from the evaluation was that Mission Australia’s Cairns homelessness services are making a very positive impact both on clients’ wellbeing and in supporting them to develop the skills necessary to sustain a tenancy. One of the key factors identified as contributing to the services’ success was collaboration – both internally across the three services and externally with the broader Cairns homelessness sector – so that clients can transition between services as their level of support required declines.

The evaluation process took a multi-pronged approach to better understand the impact of the services. It included an analysis of quantitative survey responses gathered as part of Mission Australia’s standard Impact Measurement program over the 2017-18 period, in-depth interviews with staff members across the three services and a review of previous external evaluations.

The subjective wellbeing of service users was measured through the Personal Wellbeing Index (PWI) across multiple points in time. Using the PWI, they were asked to indicate their satisfaction across a range of life domains including: standard of living; health; what they are achieving; personal relationships; safety; feeling part of their community; and future security.

Those service users who accessed more than one of the services showed a remarkable 20 point increase in their overall personal wellbeing score, while those who had accessed at least one service reported a significant increase of 14 points. One of the biggest improvements in satisfaction was with standard of living, which increased by 24.6 points for those accessing one service, and a noteworthy 40 points for those who accessed more than one service.

People who were deemed by their caseworker to be maintaining their tenancy with ‘a little’ or ‘no’ assistance increased from less than half, to more than three-quarters over the 2017-2018 period. The results also showed that those accessing these services noted strong improvements in their independent living skills; the sense of control they had over their lives; the frequency of connecting with family and friends; and frequency of participating in activities such as education and training.

These services successfully work with clients at different points on their homelessness trajectory, all operating under a trauma informed, strengths based, culturally responsive model that aims to assist service users to build the skills they need to achieve housing stability, independence and social inclusion.

Many of the people supported through these services identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. The evaluation noted the value of having Indigenous mentors and the overall focus on cultural responsiveness across the three services, to ensure the service users feel understood, respected and welcome.

Implications for the local housing market

The evaluation also pointed to the need to address the current housing shortage in Cairns, with very low availability of social housing and private rental properties. Without these long term housing options, the services are severely constrained in their ability to successfully house and exit clients. The need for long term housing is also reflected in Queensland Specialist Homelessness Services data; around two thirds of people seeking long-term accommodation across the state in 2017-18 did not receive assistance (either the provision of long-term housing or a referral) (AIHW 2019).

There is a demand for both general and supported accommodation types. A mix of housing options is needed to accommodate different cohorts, for instance families and couples as well as individuals, and to address different levels of support needs. Importantly, housing options need to be affordable for people on low incomes, as this is often a barrier to housing for those receiving the Newstart allowance.

As well as demonstrating the specific outcomes and success factors of the three Mission Australia services in Cairns, this evaluation adds to the broader evidence base about the practice approaches that are most effective for specialist homelessness services in delivering support for people experiencing homelessness. In particular, it demonstrates that close collaboration between services within a community is critical in building strong, caring relationships and better outcomes for people who are experiencing homelessness.

Marion Bennett is Mission Australia’s Executive for Practice, Quality and Performance.

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