Media Release by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Study counts the cost of homelessness

Intervening early to stop children and young people becoming homeless could save taxpayers millions of dollars in health, legal and custodial services, new research has found.

Releasing the research to mark Universal Children’s Day, Minister for Housing and Homelessness Brendan O’Connor said the Australian-first study highlighted the extraordinary cost to the community as a whole of not looking after the most vulnerable people.

The Lifecourse Institutional Costs of Homelessness for Vulnerable Groups study led by Professor Eileen Baldry and researchers from the University of New South Wales followed the lives of 11 people and found that between them, they had cost State and Commonwealth Governments almost $22 million.

One young woman who first came into contact with criminal justice and human services agencies at the age of 12 had cost more than $5.5 million in police, juvenile justice, welfare, housing, health and legal aid services by the time she turned 21.

The lowest cost for any of the individuals in the study was $960,000.

“These are truly staggering figures and these costs are still ongoing,” Mr O’Connor said during a visit to Barnardos Auburn Children’s Family Centre with the Member for Reid John Murphy.

“To tackle homelessness, we have to understand what makes some people vulnerable and what delivers long term results.

“The study highlights the cost to governments and taxpayers of supporting people who are homeless, especially when they are involved in the criminal justice system and have mental health issues.

“That’s why federal Labor made tackling homelessness a national priority – because we know that it is more than just an important social goal, it is an economic goal.”

Of the $22 million, $14 million was associated with ‘control’ agencies such as police, corrective services, juvenile justice, and courts and $8 million was for support costs including housing, welfare payments, health and disability services.

“This study highlights the importance of early intervention for children and young people to prevent the human and economic costs later in life, something that our historic White Paper on Homelessness identified in 2008,” Mr O’Connor said.

“The majority of people studied experienced significant disadvantage and vulnerability in their youth, and for several individuals from early childhood.

“The lack of early intervention for most of the people surveyed ultimately raised costs to government because of the cost of courts and corrective services.

“The research tells us that we need to intervene early to provide care and support to children when they need it, to prevent the human and economic costs later in life.”

The Gillard Government is already working towards providing broad-based early intervention and prevention services to children and families through initiatives such as Communities for Children.

“We have also committed to working across governments to better coordinate homelessness services with sectors such as health, mental health, employment and child protection through the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and other homelessness programs,” Mr O’Connor said.

“The research further underscores the importance of the Government’s goal to halve the rate of homelessness by 2020.

“This Government has invested an unprecedented $20 billion in housing and homelessness services and programs since coming to office.

“We have made a direct financial contribution to one in every 20 homes built around the nation since 2008 through programs such as the Social Housing Initiative and the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

“We’ve also been working with States and Territories, business, charities and the community through the $1.1 billion National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness.”

Mr Murphy said this research highlights the importance of the work of organisations such as the Barnardos Auburn Children’s Family Centre.

“The Children’s Family Centre plays an important role in intervening early in the lives of young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” Mr Murphy said.

“The support services it provides help people stabilise their lives, find long-term housing solutions, build family relationships and help break the cycle of homelessness.”

The research will be available for download from 12pm today from the Australian Homelessness Clearinghouse.