As part of the Council’s fifth meeting, members visited Adelaide’s Street to Home service. This is an innovative ‘housing first’ integrated service model jointly funded and delivered by the South Australian Departments of Health, and Families and Communities. This visit was particularly relevant given that service integration was one of the substantive items for discussion at the Council’s meeting.
Other key areas for consideration at this meeting included further examination of the prevalence of rough sleeping, as well as intersections between the homelessness, health, mental health and aged care agendas. Several guest speakers briefed the Council to assist in their deliberations on these matters.
The Council was briefed by Mr Bob McColl, Assistant Statistician, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), on its review of Counting the Homeless 2006 methodology, and noted that a discussion paper will be released for comment later in the year.
The Council discussed the need for a greater depth of knowledge on the diversity and effectiveness of responses to rough sleeping in Australia in order to guide policy and practice responses. Members agreed that a workshop be convened in July 2010 to engage practitioners supporting rough sleepers and government program managers. The purpose of the workshop is to gain a greater understanding of the “on the ground” responses to the diverse experience of rough sleeping.
This workshop will be informed by research commissioned by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs which will produce synthesis on existing Australian and international research on the nature and characteristics of sub-groups, pathways into and out of rough sleeping, and effective service responses for sub-group populations.
The Council noted the importance of better integration of specialist and mainstream services to meet the often multiple and complex needs of people experiencing homelessness.
As part of its consideration of this issue, the Council was briefed by Council member, Professor Margaret Hamilton AO, who drew on her experience of service integration for people with high and complex needs through her involvement on the former Victorian Department of Human Services’ Multiple and Complex Needs Panel. Other guest speakers were Mr John Mendoza, Chair of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, the Hon Rob Knowles AO, Chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia, and Ms Rosemary Huxtable, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing.
Based on these briefings, the Council identified the underpinning principles for successful service integration. These are: shared objectives across different services; governance and funding structures to join up policy and delivery at a high level; integrating fewer services well rather than all services poorly; shared accountability to ensure that all services are equally accountable to each other and to government; and performance measurement that is long term so that governments can ensure that integration of services remains sustainable.
The Council acknowledged that this may present challenges for service providers. The acceptance of the approach that homelessness is everyone’s responsibility is a relatively recent one for mainstream services, so widespread service integration is likely to take some time. Also, appropriate workforce capacity building would provide a crucial foundation for ongoing effective service integration.
National Health and Hospitals Reforms
With the centrality of service integration in mind, the Council is keen to ensure the implementation of the Government’s health reforms afford opportunities to improve the health and welfare of those experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.
The Council noted the potential for greater attention to homeless people in several of the health and hospital reforms, such as the proposed Medicare Locals network, changes to the operation of Emergency Departments, increased sub-acute beds and packages to reduce hospitalisation and support transition from hospital to community based care, and the Access to Allied Psychological Services program. The Council has signalled its interest in pursuing opportunities to contribute to the health and hospitals implementation agenda to ensure there is appropriate attention to the needs of people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness.
The Council discussed the importance of capitalising on the existing momentum to continue the reform program. To this end, the Council agreed that the event being convened by the Minister for Housing at Parliament House on 22 June 2010, The Road Home – Progress and Lessons, provides a timely opportunity to do this. In addition to showcasing some leading examples of quality services rolling out across the country, the event will include a meeting between representatives from government and the non‑government sector. This meeting will provide an opportunity for sharing lessons and discussing how these may be applied in considering future challenges, as well as examining ways to promote service integration.
Education and Employment
The Council considered a report provided by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations on how people who are homeless or at risk of becoming so are supported in the education and employment services system. The Council agreed on the importance of continuing engagement on and performance review of these issues which is vital to the achievement of White Paper goals and targets.
Regrettably, the Council noted Ms Marcia Ella-Duncan’s resignation as a member due to other commitments. Ms Ella-Duncan brought to the Council extensive experience in Indigenous affairs and a commitment to eliminating homelessness and her contribution to the Council was duly acknowledged.
The next Council meeting is scheduled for 4-5 August 2010 in Brisbane, which will provide another opportunity for Council members to visit a local service supporting homeless people. One of the major items for discussion is how Indigenous people are faring as part of the implementation of the White Paper on Homelessness. This will include a briefing on initiatives under the Closing the Gap agenda and its intersections with the National Affordable Housing Agreement and associated Partnership Agreements, and the broader homelessness reform agenda. Other substantive items for consideration will be housing supply issues and homelessness amongst older Australians over the next decade and the potential policy and service responses to it.