Why it’s time to relaunch the National Homelessness Conference in 2018
A message from Dr. Michael Fotheringham, AHURI Executive Director
23 March 2018
The release of new Australian Bureau of Statistics data from the 2016 Census reveals a 4.6 per cent increase in the rate of homelessness over the five year period. Against the backdrop of these latest figures, and with the Australian Government developing the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, the time is now to relaunch Australia’s National Homelessness Conference after a four year hiatus. So I am very pleased that AHURI is working with Homelessness Australia to co-convene this conference dedicated to finding solutions to, and seeking ways to reduce, the impacts of homelessness.
Homelessness affects many Australians - according to the new Census data around 1 in every 200 people in Australia are homeless, with significant increases over the last five years in the number of older Australians experiencing homelessness and those living in ‘severely’ overcrowded dwellings.
So what can we as a community do?
We already know that ending homelessness has so many benefits, not just to the individuals and families who find a home, but also to the wider community and to government.
The National Homelessness Conference will unpack the latest and current research, engage with the latest thinking from policymakers in the field, and examine case studies of best practice from frontline service providers and practitioners. The Conference’s theme of ‘Ending homelessness together’ reflects that solutions will require everyone in the sector working together.
AHURI has a longstanding commitment to finding evidence-based solutions to homelessness, including work on spatial, structural and personal drivers of homelessness, the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of homelessness services, and our forthcoming work on reconfiguring an effective homelessness services system.
The National Homelessness Conference will unpack the latest and current research, engage with the latest thinking from policymakers in the field, and examine case studies of best practice from frontline service providers and practitioners.
Using linked health and housing data from Western Australia, AHURI research published in 2016 found that providing public housing for priority homeless clients was associated with a greatly reduced use of health services in the following year. This resulted in a potential cost saving of $16.4 million per year—or $4,846 per person per year—to the Western Australian health system. The reduction in hospital stays ($3,114 per person per year) and in psychiatric care ($1,558 per person per year) accounted for the vast majority of potential health cost savings. Cost savings resulting from this successful housing and homelessness program allowed for more resources to be freed up in the health system to meet the needs for all.
It's stories like this that can invigorate governments and committed funding bodies to tackle homelessness.
An exciting new line of research into funding homelessness services and social housing has been social impact investing (SII), where investors in non-government organisations are rewarded with a social benefit return as well as a degree of financial return. For people to move from transitional and crisis accommodation there must be a supply of appropriate social housing and support services, and SII may provide some of the funding vital for these developments.
These are just a couple of the many important developments happening in the homelessness sector right now, and the 2018 National Homelessness Conference will be a significant catalyst for further progress. A healthy audience at this year’s reinvented conference will critical in turning this from a one-off event into a biennial gathering of the sector, so I encourage you to join us in Melbourne this August.