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Homelessness Reflects Complex Life Circumstances and Poor Health - Study

Wednesday, 24th May 2017 at 4:19 pm
Lina Caneva
High levels of psychological distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic physical conditions, and poor social supports are common characteristics of those experiencing chronic homelessness, according to new not-for-profit research.

Wednesday, 24th May 2017
at 4:19 pm
Lina Caneva



Homelessness Reflects Complex Life Circumstances and Poor Health - Study
Wednesday, 24th May 2017 at 4:19 pm

High levels of psychological distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic physical conditions, and poor social supports are common characteristics of those experiencing chronic homelessness, according to new not-for-profit research.

The J2SI’s Baseline Research Report, by Sacred Heart Mission (SHM) with the Centre for Social Impact, looked at the cycle of homelessness for 60 clients through the organisation’s Journey to Social Inclusion Program (J2SI).

SHM CEO Cathy Humphrey said the findings showed that since the J2SI pilot in 2009 to 2012, people deeply impacted by homelessness were still “falling through the cracks of society” and the current service systems were not equipped to deal with these complex issues.

“The [program] tackles these complex issues through a relationship-based approach, provides long-term support, and works from the premise that if people can sustain their housing, this provides a solid foundation to the next steps of managing health issues, addressing drug and alcohol issues, building skills, becoming a part of the community and contributing to society,” Humphrey said.

“J2SI’s second phase highlights our continued commitment and leadership to end the issue of chronic homelessness experienced by many of the most highly disadvantaged members of our community in Victoria.

“This report provides reassurance that the right cohort was referred to the program, highlighting these people need a relationship-based approach and long-term support.”

Study leader and director of the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia Professor Paul Flatau said that with 21,000 Australians having no place to call home, it was “important to fully understand the critical factors at play that were contributing to their ongoing struggle”.

“Only when we understand these factors – such as knowing that 91 per cent of respondents suffered from a chronic physical or mental health condition – can we interrupt the cycle of homelessness and create better outcomes by supporting their journey to improved health and wellbeing, and getting them into housing that is affordable and sustainable,” Flatau said.

“The data captured in this first survey showed the largest gap between the participants current and future desired situation was permanent housing, with over half saying they were optimistic about getting a house in the future.”

He said the report also highlighted that parental and caregiver conflict in the family home was a significant reason why people experienced homelessness.

The baseline report included several other key statistics across the themes of homelessness, physical and mental health and trauma, social support, use of health services, and alcohol and other drugs:

  • almost half (44 per cent) of respondents said they had to leave home because of verbal and/or physical violence;
  • one fifth of respondents had to leave home more than 10 times and all who had to leave home due to violence were under 18 years of age when they first left, and over half were aged 10 years and under;
  • most respondents (91 per cent) reported having a chronic physical or mental health condition;
  • the most common were depressive disorders (60 per cent), substance-related abuse (56 per cent), anxiety disorders (44 per cent), hepatitis C (37 per cent), chronic back or neck problems (38 per cent), and post-traumatic stress disorder (35 per cent);
  • three quarters of respondents were found to be experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress, which is in stark contrast to the 10 per cent reported for the general Australian public;
  • over two-thirds of respondents screened positive for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), much higher than the 12 per cent average for the general Australian population;
  • about 54 per cent reported family never seem to understand their problems (friends: 41 per cent);
  • 54 per cent never received help from family (friends: 42 per cent), and respondents reported a high level of loneliness;
  • Respondents frequently used health services including a general practitioner, mental health professional, hospital emergency department and dental services;
  • more than one third were admitted to hospital overnight in the last 12 months with an average of 14 nights in hospital;
  • 87 per cent reported using tobacco products daily or almost daily in the last three months, which is considerably more frequent than the 16 per cent of the general Australian population who indicated that they smoke daily;
  • 18 per cent reported daily or almost daily consumption of alcoholic beverages;
  • 84 per cent reported use of substances other than tobacco and alcohol, with 59 per cent reporting daily or almost daily use.

According to the study, other common areas of life dissatisfaction included employment and finances. Three quarters of respondents were optimistic about achieving good outcomes in their capacity for independence and safe use of alcohol and other drugs.

Sacred Heart Mission said it was currently undertaking the second phase of its J2SI program.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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