A program aimed at tackling homelessness among Sydney men has delivered dramatic results while producing significant public savings, according to a Mission Australia report being launched today.
Mission Australia’s Michael Project – a three-year initiative funded by a private donor – provided the men with quick access to a range of dental, mental health, literacy and numeracy, self-esteem and fitness support services.
It tested the theory that access to health, education and social supports can help homeless people improve their wellbeing, social and economic participation, and access to sustainable housing.
While thousands of men using seven homeless services participated, 106 were followed over 12 months in the most extensive longitudinal research exercise involving homeless people undertaken in Australia.
The research – led by Professor Paul Flatau of Murdoch University and the Centre for Social Impact and Dr Lucy Burns of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre – found that after a year in the program the men:
Reduced their hospitalisation rate from four to 1.7 times that of the general population.
Reported they were half as likely to feel isolated from the community and were three times more likely to be employed.
Were much more likely to be housed, with 42 per cent were in sustainable accommodation 12 months after entering the program.
In addition, the men were also far less likely to access health and justice services.
Over a year, the money spent by government on services such as ambulances, emergency department care, court and police costs decreased on average by $8,446 a person. Even when taking into account running costs, it delivered a saving to the public of $3,601 for every person helped.
Eleri Morgan-Thomas, who is Mission Australia’s General Manager, Social Advocacy and Public Affairs, said The Michael Project shows it costs the public more to leave someone homeless than it does to help them.
“It not only provides a new approach to supporting homeless people that should change the way we do things, but thanks to the cost-benefit analysis, we can prove what we’ve known intuitively for many years – that that the right kind of supports actually save us money,” said Ms Morgan-Thomas.
“We want to stop people becoming homelessness in the first place. But if they do, clearly a model linking care and support with accommodation… achieves better outcomes.
“People who are homeless struggle to access mainstream health services, like GPs, dentists and psychologists, and as a result their complex needs are not met. That’s why they tend to finish up in expensive parts of the system like hospital emergency departments,” she added.
“If you supply homeless people with the services they need, you not only achieve better outcomes but you save money.” Mission Australia has been speaking to government ministers around the country about how we can improve the lives of people who are homeless.
The Michael Project, New Perspectives and Possibilities for Homeless Men will be launched at the Mission Australia Centre (cnr Campbell and Denham Sts, Surry Hills) at 10am on Tuesday, 17 April.
SOURCE: Mission Australia, “The Michael Project, 2007-2010: New perspectives and possibilities for homeless men”, April 2012