Research meets Intervention

The Melbourne Institute is actively engaged in partnerships to address such issues and concerns as those raised in Journeys Home. Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI) is a pilot programme designed by the Sacred Heart Mission to provide intensive support to break the cycle of chronic homelessness.

As part of the J2SI research team, Yi-Ping Tseng, in collaboration with RMIT's Guy Johnson, has been analysing how intensive support across vital services could assist people to move out of chronic homelessness and remain housed in the long term, as well as examining the associated economic implications.

During the pilot, the J2SI program delivered intensive and individually tailored support, rapid access to permanent housing, therapeutic services to address trauma, and a skills building program to equip participants with life skills and assist them in reconnecting with the mainstream community. CEO of Sacred Heart Mission, Cathy Humphrey, says the purpose of the pilot was twofold—to achieve successful outcomes for the participants and to provide a solid evidence base to inform policy reform.

"The pilot allowed us to test the model to determine associations between such service delivery, as well as both individual and financial outcomes," Humphrey explains.

Using randomised controlled trials, the researchers tracked and compared the outcomes of 40 J2SI participants with an equivalent group of long term homeless people who were supported by existing services.

Participants in the J2SI test group demonstrated improved physical health and their use of emergency, general and psychiatric hospital facilities decreased by 80% over the 48 month period. Labour force participation increased but quickly began to decrease after the pilot concluded.

The evaluation results show that after three years in the pilot programme, 85% of participants were housed compared to 41% from the control group. However, in the 12 months following its closure the proportion of J2SI participants who were housed dropped to 75%. This is still substantially higher than at baseline, and compares favourably with international studies, but suggests that high risk individuals require the level of ongoing support of a program like J2SI if they are ever to effectively break the cycle of chronic homelessness.

Homelessness is not just a social issue, but an economic issue, and while the economic benefit at the 48 month mark is modest at approximately 25 cents in every dollar, it is trending upwards. The mortality rate over 10 years, calculated using benefit cost ratio, could be as high as $1.32 for every dollar, says Humphrey. Studies show that current public policy is costing conservatively $30,000 to $35,000 a year for each person trapped in long term homelessness.

"Even if you take compassion out of the issue," says Humphrey, "and look at it from a purely economic perspective, the current approach to long term homelessness doesn't make sense. What we have seen through J2SI is that, with the right support, people can break the cycle of long term homelessness in Melbourne."

Sacred Heart Mission is realistic about the challenges ahead. A lifetime of entrenchment, disadvantage and homelessness cannot easily be overcome but the positive benefits of intensive service support, demonstrated through J2SI, make the light at the end of the tunnel just a little brighter.

The rigour of the research ensures we are getting gold standard evaluation that will inform future intervention and, in the long term, policy change, says Humphrey.

The next phase will see the J2SI programme replicated across other geographical locations and scaled up to include a broader sample.

"To achieve sustainable outcomes we need to secure a sustainable funding model", continues Humphrey. "To secure government and philanthropic support it will be vital to provide robust evidence of the economic benefit of these interventions for government and the community; to demonstrate a measurable social return. Only then can we create and adapt a model all across the country and make serious headway in ending chronic homelessness in Australia."

Journey to Social Inclusion research reports are available online:

sacredheartmission.org/understanding-homelessness