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A new Housing First approach piloted by Mission Australia could help Australia's 100,000 homeless people transition into permanent housing.
An evaluation of Mission Australia's MISHA (Michael's Intensive Supported Housing Accord) Project, led by the UWA Business School's Winthrop Professor Paul Flatau and conducted by a multi-university research team, found the MISHA project increased the tenancy retention rate of clients, reduced social isolation, increased employment rates, and had the potential to become a cost-neutral government program.
Based on the Housing First model, the three-year MISHA Project prioritised the human right to permanent housing, while making additional welfare services available but not compulsory.
In contrast, Australian housing programs commonly use a ‘treatment first' model, where access to housing is only granted after treatment of existing mental health, substance use or physical health issues, with limited support after housing placement.
Between 2010 and 2013, the MISHA Project placed more than 70 Parramatta-based homeless men in permanent accommodation, with access to a case worker, psychologist, activities coordinator and additional community support services.
Conducting both longitudinal surveys and qualitative interviews, the research team measured health and welfare indicators, as well as the men's use of mainstream health, justice and other government services.
Overall, the cost of MISHA support, when offset against reduced costs to other government services such as hospital visits and police time, was found to be $4836 per client per year, with the MISHA Project expected to become cost neutral in three years.
Winthrop Professor Flatau says that with 2011 Australian census figures showing 105,237 Australians to be homeless, a Housing First approach could represent a more efficient way to help long-term homeless people maintain tenancies in permanent accommodation.
"Given the complex housing histories of MISHA clients, the ability of the vast majority of the men (around 90%) to maintain their tenancy over a two-year period is a tremendously important outcome," Winthrop Professor Flatau said.
"Most importantly, the evidence suggests it is possible to implement a Housing First approach (with appropriate case worker and welfare support) in an Australian setting with high success."
The MISHA Project has already begun having wider practical implications, with the federal Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews referencing the MISHA Report at the National Homelessness Conference in September.
The MISHA Report: From Homelessness to Sustained Housing 2010-2013 was authored by Paul Flatau and Kaylene Zaretzky from The University of Western Australia; Elizabeth Conroy and Marlee Bower from The University of Western Sydney; and Tony Eardley and Lucy Burns from The University of New South Wales.