Low remuneration, short term contracts and competitive funding models are reducing employees’ financial security resulting in experienced staff leaving the specialist homelessness services industry. The research investigates what is needed to build a strong specialist homelessness services (SHS) sector workforce that will help people experiencing homelessness to access accommodation and get ongoing support.
The work done by workers within the SHS sector is increasingly complex and places high physical and psychological demands on staff. They experience heavy workloads which include increased administrative tasks; taxing emotional demands; unrealistic expectations based on outdated key performance indices; and significant problem-solving demands, including having to navigate welfare systems that are outside of their control. These pressures contribute to staffing shortages and problems retaining workers, both issues which are expected to increase in the future.
The experiences of workers, especially those working in frontline roles, clearly show that the impact of SHS sector work on mental health is significant. Lack of funding, understaffing, placing staff in roles that are beyond their current competency, shift work and vicarious trauma and stress from exposure to distressing situations have the greatest impact on workers’ mental health. Workers are also asked to support clients who experience a range of social, emotional, drug and alcohol, domestic and family violence, cultural, trauma and mental health problems.
The research identifies Government policy priorities that will improve the situation for workers, including reforming the way SHS funds are delivered by the states and territories.