GPO Box 1307
Canberra ACT 2601
Tel: (02) 6230 1775
Fax: (02) 6230 1704
1. Executive Summary
Are homelessness services in Australia fit for purpose? In other words, do homelessness services effectively meet the needs of their clients? This is a question that refers to the quality of a service when viewed from the perspective of its clients.
Development of a quality service or a quality framework to support a service is an iterative process with the starting point reflection on what service provision is. A practice paradigm clearly articulated by the agency can help answer that question. Agencies provide services to clients to improve their life outcomes through their own action in a direction that has meaning to themselves. Those agencies may be supported by a quality framework which targets certain operational aspects of that previously articulated paradigm. Building supports around administration and governance; client driven outcomes; interagency relations and community engagement can equip agencies to support their clients to reach for their goals, become empowered to take action and subsequently through their own personal development make a contribution to the community in which they live. Homelessness services are situated to pave the way for the mutual appreciation of clients and the community around them and a quality framework can support agencies to that end.
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Anglicare Australia is the peak body for a national network of locally based Anglican care organisations serving the needs of disadvantaged Australians and their communities. The Anglicare network provides a wide range of services to people in need; and works to address issues of injustice across the nation. In 2007-08 Anglicare agencies served over 512,340 clients in rural, remote, regional and urban communities using the services of 12,000 staff and 21,000 volunteers and spending over $624 million. Anglicare Australia seeks to influence social and economic policy to advocate for a society where the contribution, dignity and participation of everyone are equally valued.
Based on the expertise of members providing services in homelessness in every state and territory Anglicare Australia makes this submission on the basis that it is advocating on behalf of all individuals who are currently at risk of or are experiencing homelessness so that they may be best supported by high quality services.
The Government's implementation of its homelessness strategy has begun to make inroads into reducing the prevalence of homelessness in Australia. The National Affordability Housing Agreement, the Nation Building Stimulus Package and the other housing schemes implemented by the Government are slowly making a difference to the lives of many who will now, or soon will be, enjoying the safety and security that stable housing can provide. However, the simple fact remains: there is not enough affordable housing to eliminate homelessness in Australia. Bottlenecks in transition housing caused by massive waiting lists for public and community housing compounded by the influx of working poor and subsequent cessation of flow through of tenants into independent housing has meant that the Government's initiatives, though widely accepted as positive forward action, are not yet meeting the necessary targets to eliminate homelessness. Structures and processes around quality in homelessness services will not erase this fact.
However, whilst Anglicare Australia will continue to advocate for future sustainable, affordable housing for all, it is recognised that action must be taken in housing and homelessness services. Quality processes which will accompany a quality framework have the ability to improve the homelessness service sector to transform the client's experience and the community's awareness of it.
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3. It's a QUALITY Life
This section outlines the relationship between an articulated service provision framework and the development of a quality framework. It discusses the operational aspects of practice and how a quality framework could be integrated to support the work of the agency whilst also delineating some of the specific processes which could underpin a quality framework. Also explored in this section is how a quality framework can support client outcomes.
3.1 Quality, Like Charity, Begins at Home
Quality service provision should be underpinned by a practice paradigm which reflects the true value and substance of the people it means to support. By articulating a practice framework an organisation may make a clear statement effecting the values and principles on which service provision is justified and by extension what might be expected from such a service. Many services do this in the form of a vision or mission statement, strategic plan or code of ethics. In this undertaking, the agency has created for itself parameters which will guide the development of its own quality framework or create a baseline on which to overlay a broader, national quality framework.
Anglicare Australia has an implicit if not explicit view of service delivery as social action. In broad terms, all individuals have the ability to make a contribution to society through taking such action that has meaning to themselves, considers the wider community, and is directed toward a desired outcome.1 Building on social action theory; philosophies and practice which empower the individual to take action to determine their own life outcomes is the ultimate goal. (See Figure 3.1) Service provision based on a clearly articulated practice paradigm in a homelessness setting should be the vehicle supporting clients to this end as Johnnie's story will later demonstrate.
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Figure 3.1 Practice paradigm for a quality service
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Quality comes from gradations of improvement. Identifying a practice framework is a first step which can be later built and improved on. Whether a quality framework includes quality assurance (static quality) or quality improvement (active quality) processes it requires set criteria from which to appropriately judge quality. This is where an articulated service delivery paradigm can assist the development of quality processes; aspects of service may be compared and adequately determined to be contributing to or detracting from quality outputs and outcomes. For example, where a network of individual agencies focussing on their own internal quality improvement whilst collaborating on quality connections to improve communication, synergies and pathways between services, those agencies may determine if such processes are facilitating or hindering clients' ability to take action and shape outcomes. A quality system will have in place mechanisms to assess and amend processes based on such assessments rather than be reliant on ad hoc and at times inept evaluative/assessment methods. As agencies critically reflect on their internal structures, processes, outputs and outcomes quality can be assessed and therefore, improved.
3.2 Quality Framework as A Way Forward
Quality should not be a management tool where a document is written, filed away in the policy and procedures manual and checked off as completed and therefore compliant. Ensuring quality within an organisation is a dynamic process and requires commitment from that agency to transform its operations to include and perhaps more importantly, to respond to identified quality processes. As outlined in the discussion paper, quality refers, in brief, to the organisation's ability to effectively respond to the client's needs. In Anglicare Australia's view, there are four streams of operations where a quality framework for homelessness services can support organisations to adequately address clients' needs. These are:
- Administration and Governance
- Client Driven Outcomes
- Interagency Relations
- Community Engagement
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Administration and Governance
A quality framework should support the work being carried out by the agency; to provide guidance and structure around governance and administration best practice, particularly for smaller organisations to allow them to critically refine their practices to reduce administrative burdens and refocus energies to client outcomes.
Client Driven Outcomes
A quality framework should assist individuals accessing the agency to a greater degree of freedom and control in utilising the agency's services. This includes having an integral role in developing and delivering services.
A quality framework should allow relationships the agency conducts with other services and with Government to be based on an open understanding of remit, philosophy and practice.
A quality framework should support the agency to connect to and engage with the wider community in supporting greater social transformation. This will enhance the community's receptivivity when clients of services act on making their contribution to society.
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3.3 Practice and Quality Support Client Outcomes
The purpose of a practice paradigm underpinned by a quality framework is to support individuals to recognise their own inherent value and support them to overcome barriers to an improved quality of life and to make a contribution to society in whichever form they see fit. And in this sense, contribution is more than employment and productivity. Through an organisation's recognition and true valuing of an individual's right to self-determination which can be supported through empowerment, choice, ability to take action and ultimately make a contribution, organisations are effectively bolstering clients to assist them to reach their goals and to maintain a sustainable level of independence or autonomy thereby breaking the cycle of homelessness.
Services for people experiencing homelessness are wide ranging, from emergency and sustained accommodation and primary health care to communication and social engagement opportunities. Government policy over the past three years has been refocussed to reflect this. The challenge that exists for homelessness services is in building a linked up vision of those services so that they do provide the kind of responsive and holistic service that would best support people experiencing homelessness.
Recently the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released an outline for the new directions needed for homelessness data collection. The AIHW's view is that the data now needed to assess the effectiveness of this wider range of services and programs needs to reflect the integrated nature of the issues which lead to, exacerbate and entrench homelessness.
While the data collected previously were very much focused on what services were delivered to people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness, the new data will focus more on outcomes... this would also take in social inclusion outcomes such as employment, and building family and community relationships.2
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Appropriate mental health, alcohol and other drug, basic health care, emergency relief and crisis accommodation services are essential services that people accessing homelessness sector agencies need to access in a timely manner. But every person and every family is unique, and no path out of homelessness, or to a better or more secure life, is the same as any other. And, importantly, no such journey is simply a function of a person being supported by services. In terms of a national quality framework, agencies need to work respectfully with clients, other services and government.
Homelessness services also need to engage publicly with the community around them. It is not a feasible strategy to promote the participation of clients/people experiencing homelessness in the community if there is no impetus being created for the community itself to open up and be shaped by that contribution.
A quality framework can be the structure that supports the agency within those relationships, either with the client or the community, and provides the credibility and the space required to develop awareness, readiness and opportunities for clients and the community to eventually engage with each other.
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3.4 Building a Quality Framework
A quality framework can include a multitude of processes, measures, checks and balances to achieve better client outcomes and to create an approach to service delivery that concludes in the mutual acceptance of clients and the community. The following structure is a suggestion for what might be included in a national quality framework for homelessness services for each of the four operational streams. It notes that the importance of inter-agency relations and community engagement which are as much a part of service delivery and therefore client outcomes as a safe and stable home.
- Administration and Governance
- Guidance on administrative, governance, and business process best practice.
- Minimising red tape and streamlining reporting processes for funding agreements.
- Establishing a streamlined data collection system including access to report data from funded programs as a resource for research, policy development and self-assessment.
- Guidance and support on evaluation best practice.
- Client Driven Outcomes
- Charter of Rights
- Service Guarantee, as per the Australian Capital Territory
- Interagency Relations
- Accountability processes built into relationships based on mutual respect and understanding with recourse available for agencies when government does not meet its obligations and vice versa.
- Greater flexibility of funding and program management processes reflecting the multi-faceted role of the agency and the dynamic needs of the clientele.
- Commitment from agencies to working collaboratively with other services in the interests of the clients and the wider community.
- Government support (financial or otherwise) for sector networking and development recognising that there are other costs in sector management and development.
- Take up and commitment to nationwide agreements such as the Compact between the Government and the Third Sector.
- Community Engagement
- Establish networks, processes and resources for sharing models and success stories for positively engaging with and facilitating community connection.
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4. Johnnie's Story 3
Johnnie is a 50 year old Aboriginal man raised by his paternal grandparents, and who lived at home until he was 14. At this time he went out to train as a shearer, stock hand & fencer which was the only work available to him at that time. He stayed in the bush and moved to Dubbo at 16 where he met Claire, his partner, and began a family. Johnnie lived the transient life of a shearer in Western New South Wales for 30 years, leaving Claire and his six children at home for long periods of time.
Johnnie and Claire were together from 1976 to 2000, when their relationship finally broke down due to Johnnie's heavy drinking. Also, he'd been travelling around for so long, the relationship had become unstable. Johnnie ended up in gaol on several occasions, usually due to drinking and driving offences and after staying for a time with his sister in Mildura, Johnnie made the decision to move to Melbourne for a new life. Wanting to be with other Aboriginal people, Johnnie moved to the Fitzroy area where he was told other Aboriginal people lived. There he lived rough with other drinkers from Smith Street, until he learned of the George Wright Shelter for Aboriginal men in George Street. He stayed at the shelter for three months, still drinking off site, before deciding that he wanted the independence of a room on his own rather than sharing with other people in a dormitory.
It was at this point that Johnnie went to see Yarra Community Housing who had one room vacant at a boarding house in Napier Street. This area was known to be rough, so much so that the room was unable to be filled before Johnnie's taking residence. Johnnie had resided in the room only a short while before he suffered a heart attack. The shock of the attack lead him to cut down on his drinking and smoking and after a month in hospital he returned to the boarding house where he continued to share kitchen, bathroom and laundry facilities with 15 other people.
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Yarra Community Housing, recognising the un-tenability of a shared housing model, made the decision to renovate the property in late 2009. Upon completion, Johnnie moved into a new self-contained unit with his own kitchen, bathroom and living space. From having stable and secure independent housing and support from Yarra Community Housing, Johnnie has become an active member of the St Mark's sports team, excelling at all sports and has taken on a new lease of life.
Johnnie has established a great relationship with Yarra Community Housing- 'I do the right thing by them and they do the right thing by me' says Johnnie. He looks forward to a long and happy association with them, and has no desire or need to move into public housing. He is happy, healthy, independent and embracing Melbourne and his new community. Johnnie occasionally travels to visit his family and has become very supportive of younger members of the Aboriginal community locally, giving them the benefit of his own life experience, both the ups and the downs.
The story of Johnnie demonstrates the level of independence, sustainability and contribution that can be achieved through services that are based on solid understanding of their own practice which empowers the client to work within the resources available to them, to identify opportunities, to take action and ultimately feel the connection between their own inherent value and the value of belonging to a community which is accepting. A quality framework is the vehicle which will support agencies to assist their clients to reach their goals and subsequently, give of themselves to the community.
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5. Other Comments
In terms of establishing a quality framework for homelessness services, there are other criteria which should be included which act more as conditions than principles or processes.
Living document with updating procedures
To ensure quality and to engender trust the quality framework in whatever form it takes should be a living document continually being updated as best practice and research emerge. Updating procedures should be clear and accessible with transparent reasoning for why and how the framework is to be amended with general agreement garnered from the sector through consultation methods.
Quality checklist/self-assessment tools
The framework should include a quality checklist or self assessment tools so that agencies may assess internally whether they are meeting quality targets. The framework should not insist on compliance but rather be endorsed by agencies as signatories to the commitment of providing quality services.
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Anglicare Australia maintains that each individual has their own inherent value. For some however, life circumstances may prevent them from recognising this value within themselves. Obstacles such as a lack of safe and affordable housing in conjunction with myriad other issues experienced over sustained periods of time have the effect of gradually wearing down the individuals sense of self and thereby minimising perceived opportunities to become involved in their community.
Services with a clear practice framework emphasising the empowerment of the individual supported by a quality framework are well placed to support clients realise their own value and direct their own life outcomes thereby making an active contribution to the community in which they live.