World-first study into homelessness released
Minister for Housing and Homelessness Brendan O’Connor today welcomed the initial findings of what is thought to be a world-first study tracking the lives of more than 1,600 homeless or vulnerable Australians for almost two years.
Journeys Home: Longitudinal Study of Factors Affecting Housing Stability was funded under the Government’s National Homelessness Research Agenda. The Wave 1 Findings were released today to mark the end of National Homeless Persons’ Week.
Journeys Home, conducted by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, tracks a national sample of people who have been identified as homeless or at risk of becoming homeless between September 2011 and May 2013. Research will be released in four “waves” or stages.
“Homelessness is a national challenge and the Labor Government has made it a national priority,” Mr O’Connor said.
“If we are to tackle homelessness it is vital that we have an accurate picture of the causes and experiences of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
“While similar research has been done on particular sub-groups of homeless people, Journeys Home study may indeed be a world first as it follows a national sample of individuals exposed to high levels of housing insecurity employing much more rigorous sampling methods than ever previously used.
“Many of the findings from Wave 1 are consistent with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Specialist Homelessness Service Collection, which will form an important part of the data the Government uses to measure our progress in our ambitious goal of halving homelessness by 2020.”
The participants were selected using Centrelink’s Homelessness Indicator, with a second group selected using statistical techniques that identify income support recipients who have not been flagged as homeless but have characteristics similar to those who have been.
The initial findings, from September to November 2011, confirm the most common reason for first becoming homeless was family breakdown and conflict (62 per cent).
Half of the participants had their first experience of homelessness before they reached the age of 18, 94 per cent of participants had been homeless at some stage in their lives, and 51 per cent had been homeless in the past six months.
Those who first become homeless at a young age are more likely to experience persistent homelessness.
One in three people who first experienced homelessness under the age of 15 had spent a total of four years or more homelessness during their lifetimes.
Dr Rosanna Scutella, Senior Research Fellow with the Melbourne Institute and Deputy Project Director of Journeys Home, said those who were exposed to homelessness for the longest periods were the most likely to have been exposed to violence or abuse, been placed into State care and child protection systems or have experienced poverty in childhood.
“What we have already found from the first wave of the survey is that respondents’ housing situation appears to vary considerably over time,” Dr Scutella said.
“Many respondents are cycling in and out of homelessness, spending considerable amounts of their lifetimes in an unstable housing situation.
“In future waves we want to be able to ascertain what differentiates those who are able to exit homelessness from those who are not.”
Mr O’Connor said the study would give the Government a better understanding of the causes of homelessness and its effects.
“This study will be an important piece of data to help us measure our progress on homelessness,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Combined with the ABS Census estimates and the AIHW Specialist Homelessness Service Collection, these facts and figures will give us the most accurate picture of homelessness in Australia that we have ever had.
“We will be able to better target our funding and resources in the future, ensuring government services are better co-ordinated and people are less likely to fall through the cracks.
“Under the National Homelessness Research Agenda, the Gillard Government is investing $11.4 million over four years to improve the evidence base for delivering sustainable solutions to homelessness and provide a better understanding of the impact of homelessness on individuals and families.”
Journeys Home Wave 1 Findings is available at: http://melbourneinstitute.com/journeys_home/research/reports.html