A new study from The University of Western Australia has found that providing stable public housing for homeless people could save the Western Australian health system more than $16 million a year.
The study, undertaken for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), provides compelling support for programs that provide stable permanent accommodation for people experiencing homelessness.
The research, led by Professor Paul Flatau and Dr Lisa Wood, and researchers from the Centre for Social Impact at UWA, was funded by the AHURI. It is the first study in Australia to link health care costs to national data examining the impact of homelessness programs and public housing.
The findings were presented today at an event hosted by St Bart’s and attended by leaders within the homelessness sector as part of Homelessness Week (1-7 August).
Professor Paul Flatau said the study examined outcomes of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) supported tenancy programs for people at risk of homelessness with high needs to outcomes among people given prioritised access to public housing by the Department of Housing due to homelessness. “We found that providing public housing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness could save nearly $5,000 per person each year in health costs alone, and when coupled with support from an NPAH program the annual saving was over $13, 000 per person,” Professor Flatau said.
“After entering a public housing tenancy, the number of people presenting to hospital and the duration and frequency of health service use fell significantly.
“The reduction was most notable in emergency department admissions, duration of hospital stay and use of psychiatric services for those with severe mental health issues; all of which cost the health system an enormous amount each year.”
Associate Professor Lisa Wood said the study provided compelling evidence of the merits of more integrated solutions to homelessness and the strain on the health system.
“The high prevalence of mental health issues among people who are homeless is well documented, but our research showed that use of mental health services significantly reduced when people who have been homeless were provided with public housing and support,” she said.
“The tenant surveys undertaken as part of our research reveal the powerful stories behind the statistics, and highlight how mental and physical health is profoundly impacted when people face housing insecurity and homelessness.”
St Bart’s CEO John Berger said the UWA study confirmed the organisation’s own experience from more than half a century of working with people experiencing homelessness in Perth.
“Whether you are sleeping on the streets, couch surfing, or living in a tent or car, not having a permanent address reduces your ability to take care of your most basic needs,” he said. “As a result, people’s health care arrests and their situation typically stabilises.”
“When you are maintaining housing, not only do you decrease dependence on emergency health care services, the more likely it is you can engage with the community including education, work training and placement opportunities.
The report, ‘What are the health, social and economic benefits of providing public housing and support to formerly homeless people?’ can be found online here.
The research team said that the findings support the continued funding of NPAH, a joint Australian Federal/state and territory initiative that seeks to break the cycle of homelessness by supporting homeless clients’ ability to access and sustain public housing.