Why Is It So Hard for the Homeless to Get Help?
29 June 2018 at 4:51 pm
With the number of Australians experiencing homelessness estimated at more than 110,000, Pro Bono News wanted to take a closer look at what help is currently available for those seeking a bed for the night.
We spoke with Richard Elmer, the manager at the Salvation Army Crisis Support Centre in St Kilda about what procedures are currently in place and what challenges there are on both sides of the process.
“Our centre spends in a year around $450,000 on hotel accommodation. We’re assessing people based on vulnerability,” Elmer says.
“That can include family violence, people with children, people with mental health issues, people with drug and alcohol issues and other health issues etc.
“It’s about keeping people as safe as possible and with that amount of money that the Department of Health and Human services give us, it is enough to provide accommodation for everyone who knows to contact us.”
In Victoria, theirs is the only 24/7 crisis centre, and though they do not provide accommodation on site, their job is to assess people’s situation and their vulnerability and place them in a hotels for the night or for the weekend.
“The aim then is for us to make an assessment of that client’s situation and we send that assessment with their consent to what they call an ‘access point’ or a housing service which is nearest to them. Then the idea is that the client either contacts or presents to that housing service the next day and then that housing service will deal with the longer-term housing issues,” Elmer explains.
The Salvation Army Crisis centre relies on the Department of Health and Human services for 60 per cent of its funding, with the remaining 40 per cent being provided by the Salvation Army themselves.
According to Elmer, another big issue that a lot people who find themselves homeless experience is simply that they might not know where to go to get help.
“Who actually knows who to contact when they do become homeless? That’s another issue of mine,” he says.
“A lot of people that have been homeless for some time or have contacted services regularly in crisis would know the number, but if you are new to homelessness, I don’t know how well it’s advertised.”
2007 saw the introduction of The Opening Doors Framework by the Department of Health and Human Services which aimed to provide an integrated and coordinated response by having a limited number of designated access points into the homelessness system.
As part of this, effort was put into advertising where crisis centres could be found across Victoria for those who needed them.
“The system worked, and people knew where to go,” Elmer says.
“[However] there was less affordable housing than ever, so, they were – and still are – under a lot of stress, particularly in the metro region. When they close their doors at 5pm, those people are contacting us here.”
Elmer mentioned that in addition to a lack of affordable housing, much of the housing has been reported as being unsafe, and therefore inappropriate.
“The trouble is when people get to the housing services, the overall lack of affordable housing means they are actually providing a similar response to us anyway, and that is just trying to support them into a hotel or even a rooming house,” he says. “But we’re hearing more and more about how unsafe they are – so it’s not really appropriate housing. This is the whole problem with lack of housing right across the board.”
Once Elmer’s crisis centre organises accommodation for the night, they organise for a follow-up worker to contact the housing entry point to make sure they’ve received all the client’s information. If they didn’t, they will resend it. They have constant communication with their client to ensure they know where to go to find their accommodation, and also provide help if a client is unsuccessful in getting in to accommodation.
“We have what we call a ‘follow-up role’ where we determine if that client is going to get into the housing service or not and if they don’t, we can have another go and be kind of like a backstop service and ensure that they either get an appointment or that they’re accommodated again until they get one,” Elmer says.
Funding plays an integrative role in how these establishments are able to conduct themselves, as previously discussed in Pro Bono News.
Elmer says: “While there are guidelines about housing services including how to use housing establishment funds, a lot of housing services run their own guidelines.
“I think where that comes from is if the Department of Health and Human Services gives them a certain amount of money [that is enough] for 100 people but they’ve got 500 people coming through and they then start making up their own rules about how they’re going to divvy that out.”
From this crisis centre, eligibility and priority for housing is determined based on assessment, yet Elmer admits there are times when they have turned people away.
“It’s usually when someone is contacted and we assess that they need hotel accommodation and tell them to follow up with a housing service the next day, if they don’t follow up with that housing service maybe we might give them another night.
“Sometimes people are getting their kids to school or they have a centrelink appointment and they prioritise that over the housing so that’s fine, but if they don’t demonstrate that they’re actually trying to go to the appointments we may say on the third night, sorry but it’s money going down the drain [as they’re] not really having a good go at making the appointments.”
This particular crisis centre also has an interim report and linkage program where referrals can come from the front line workers.
“We’re a state-wide service and we’re 24/7 but where they are local, the workers can refer a client to this program and she can work with them over 10 to 12 weeks. We do understand though that that’s not lot of time to address a lot of issues, particularly with the lack of housing, so we’ve sort of broken the rules on those targets just to ensure that that person gets enough support.”
Crisis and emergency accommodation can be found on the Victorian government’s website.