Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI) is a Sacred Heart Mission initiated service model that was piloted over three years between November 2009 and October 2012.
The project was the first of its kind in Australia and aimed to demonstrate that with the right investment it is possible to end a person's long-term homelessness and that it makes economic sense.
The Australian Government acknowledged the pilot with a National Homelessness Services Award for excellence and innovation in 2013. It has also received a Council to Homeless Persons award for excellence in ending homelessness for adults.
J2SI is based on research, as well as best practice in Australia and overseas, which shows that a person can make a permanent transition out of homelessness through intensive, individually-tailored, long-term support that addresses the underlying causes of the person's homelessness as well as trauma experienced whilst homeless.
The J2SI program delivered:
- intensive and individually tailored support
- rapid access to permanent housing
- therapeutic services to address the trauma that is both a cause and a consequence of long term homelessness
- a skills building program that equips participants with life skills, assisting them to reconnect with the mainstream community and build social networks outside of the homeless subculture.
The total cost of the pilot over the three years was $3.8 million - around $30,000 per supported participant per year that was sourced primarily from philanthropy.
To ensure robust evaluation, we partnered with RMIT University to evaluate the social impact of J2SI on participants, and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research to undertake the economic evaluation.
The latest evaluation report 'Resolving long-term homelessness' launched in 2014 looks at the impact of the three years of service delivery. The next report, due out mid-2015, will evaluate the impact of the pilot on participants’ lives one year after service delivery has come to an end.
The current approach doesn't make sense
Even if you take compassion out of the issue, and look at it from a purely economic perspective, the current approach to long-term homelessness doesn't make sense. Studies into homelessness statistics have shown that our current public policy is costing our community, conservatively, $30,000 - $35,000 a year for each person who is trapped in long-term homelessness.
The current system it isn't helping people to break the cycle of homelessness and resultsin expensive use of crisis services such as temporary accommodation, hospital emergency, psychiatric services, and police and justice resources. These services whilst treating an immediate need, are not addressing the the underlying issues, nor achieve long-term outcomes, and they are not stopping the crisis churn. Our J2SI vision is to challenge the status-quo and create a public policy shift that addresses long term homeless through targeted resources that are tailored to each person needs, that ensure a substantial pathway out of homelessness, helping people to live more stable and fulfilling lives.
But there's hope!
We have seen through our Journey to Social Inclusion pilot that with the right support, people can break the cycle of long-term homelessness in Melbourne. But it doesn't happen overnight. Getting people housing is not the biggest challenge (although the lack of affordable housing in Australia does makes it incredibly difficult). It's helping people to maintain their housing that is the hardest.
With the right support, people can learn to manage their mental illness and substance abuse issues so these don't affect their tenancy. They can better manage their health and be proactive with medical treatment, rather than ending up in psychiatric or hospital emergency. They are less likely to engage in anti-social behaviour and come to the attention of the police, and, while trauma is enduring and usually never goes away, people can learn to manage the impact it has on their lives. Some people, and we've seen this, start to get active in the community - whether it's joining groups, volunteering or even working.
There is a solution!
Investing in long-term homelessness in Melbourne and throughout Australia makes economic sense. And it's the compassionate thing to do. If our public policy shifts to provide support to people who are long-term homeless, that is tailored to each person's needs and is over a long period of time, we can help them to live more stable and fulfilling lives.
Up for grabs are social and economic benefits - for the individuals involved, our community, society and government.
Interview with 'Valerie', J2SI case worker
What was involved with being a Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI) case worker?
Being a J2SI caseworker involved supporting four clients for a period of three years. The casework was intensive and caseworkers could spend up to seven hours each week with each client. This time included working on behalf of the client, advocacy, liaison, paper work and case notes. The J2SI caseworkers worked alongside the BUDS worker (Building Up and Developing Skills), the My Employment worker, and the other caseworkers to provide a team approach to supporting the clients.
J2SI caseworkers were responsible for coordinating the other support services involved with the individual clients, and created a client-centred, holistic approach to meeting the client’s needs. This included working closely with housing providers, GPs, mental health supports, Alcohol and Other Drug supports, legal and financial supports, and other supports as required by the individual client’s identified needs and support plan. J2SI caseworkers worked with clients towards their goals of social inclusion. This meant that workers could accompany clients to outings such as visiting a museum, learning a new activity or participating in volunteering.
Generally speaking, what challenges were the participants facing?
The J2SI participants all had a history of chronic homelessness and were described as having multiple and complex needs. In general, this population had multiple episodes of accessing services and were considered to be the individuals that most required enduring support to break this cycle of homelessness and service dependence. Many J2SI clients suffered from issues relating to physical health, mental health, alcohol and other drug use, legal, financial and social problems. Many of the clients also reported a history of childhood trauma and abuse.
What were the benefits of having the time to be able to provide intensive support to your clients?
Intensive support over three years allowed the J2SI caseworkers to build relationships with their clients. This relationship in turn allowed the caseworkers to work with their clients in a manner that was trauma informed. The relationship fostered trust and the enduring support helped the clients to work towards their goals inside a therapeutic framework. A huge bonus of having such a long support period was that the goals could be approached, to most extent, in the client’s own time. In this way, the support was more person-centred than traditional case management approaches. The caseworkers could also use their relationships with the clients to challenge the clients to explore their own abilities in a manner that could normally result in the client withdrawing from a service.
Can you give one example?
In one example, a J2SI client had a history of “running away” when workers or organisations tried to assist with issues that were “too hard” for the client to deal with. Their J2SI worker spent many hours visiting State Trustees in the city and other support services in different suburbs, in order to “bump into” the client and provide on-the-spot intervention support. This response was eventually accepted by the client and rather than find it odd that their worker would appear, the client started to expect the worker and be grateful for the response. This eventually resulted in the client accessing Sacred Heart Mission to see the worker, however this process took months and was only possible because of the nature of the J2SI program. The resulting engagement meant that the worker could assist the client to secure public housing and start to work towards their health goals.
Overall, what impact did you see the program had in the lives of the people you worked with?
Overall, the impact of the J2SI program appeared to be positive for the clients. The majority experienced periods of secure housing and were able to address issues relating to health, mental health, AOD, legal and final issues. Many clients were able to address their social inclusion goals. Some clients were successful in reconnecting with family and others secured employment. These outcomes were not easily achieved and the importance of the experience, if even for a short while, can not be overstated. Likewise, for many J2SI clients, the relationship they held with their worker was of great importance – it may have been the only positive relationship they were experiencing at that time.
Can you recall one particular event that shows the positive impact J2SI had on a client?
One J2SI client was able to maintain their housing immaculately – creating a real sense of “home”. They saved their Centrelink pension during the three years and managed to buy a brand new sofa, TV, coffee table and kitchen furniture. The client was incredibly proud of their achievements and stated this was where they wanted to be for the rest of their life. The pride in having a “home” that they could show off encouraged the client to reconnect with family and have relatives come to visit. Having a safe and secure home allowed the client to focus on their diet and shopping habits. They cooked meals at home and started addressing their health needs.