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From Crisis Response to Secure Housing: cohealth’s Homelessness to a Home — Housing First in Action


by cohealth

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity magazine including how to access full editions.

Homelessness to a Home

An exciting new program born out of the crisis of the pandemic will bring about something that many in the sector thought would never happen.

The State Government’s Homelessness to a Home (H2H) program will deliver much-needed safe, secure and affordable housing and support for 1,700 people without homes in Melbourne’s north, south and west to prevent them from becoming chronically homeless.

‘The fundamental philosophy behind H2H is a housing first model, something that has been spoken about in the sector for a long period of time as the key to solving the issue of chronic homelessness,’ said cohealth homelessness manager James Duffy.

In March last year when the pandemic hit and Melbourne’s homeless community were moved into temporary hotel and motel accommodation subsidised by the State Government to keep them safe, there was recognition in the sector that service offerings had to quickly follow those relocations.

There needed to be an outcome at the end of it, moving from the bandaid solution offered in the past to a more proactive response.

Housing and support

In the north and west regions Homelessness to a Home will see cohealth, Melbourne City Mission and Unison combine their resources and expertise to provide housing and intensive support packages to assist 221 people who are experiencing homelessness and currently staying in hotel accommodation, to transition into affordable and sustainable housing. In the North and South regions, cohealth will work closely with Launch Housing, Mind Australian, Bolton Clarke — Homeless Persons Program, Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Ltd (VACSAL) and Uniting to deliver this much needed support through a mix of tailored and targeted and intensive support packages to 420 members of the homeless community.

Established and experienced in these areas of Melbourne, the partner agencies will provide homes and wrap‑around social, health and wellbeing supports for individuals and families, many of whom have experienced a lifetime of disadvantage and have complex support needs.

cohealth and Launch Housing will provide the social work response for the north/south consortia; Mind Australia will provide community mental health support; Uniting alcohol and other drug (AOD) support and treatment; VACSAL will support members of the Aboriginal community; and Bolton Clarke — Homeless Persons Program will provide nursing services. In the north/west, cohealth will provide the health component such as community nursing, community mental health, AOD counselling and dual diagnosis clinicians; Melbourne City Mission will facilitate the case management response; and Unison will provide the suitable housing.

The case management approach in supporting clients to maintain their tenancy will include: advice and education on legal requirements; daily living skills; addressing issues with neighbours; linking them in with community and recreational activities in the area; managing bills; and assisting with anything else that can be foreign to people who have been living with entrenched homelessness.

Client-focused care

H2H Program Facilitator Emma Littlewood said providing a property is just the start of the line; wrap‑around supports are vital to ensure clients can transition into their property, establish the tenancy and then begin to address complex health needs that were neglected while rough sleeping.

‘That’s what makes this program so exciting; that we can work in partnership with other agencies to ensure holistic, client-focused care can be provided to some of the most vulnerable members of our community,’ she said.

‘Our team are putting a lot of focus on supporting clients to engage with their community, increase their psychosocial supports and link in with specialist health services to hopefully begin a new chapter in their life and reduce the challenges that can come with securing a new tenancy in a new area.’

cohealth built a strong relationship with over 100 clients in temporary hotel accommodation and rooming houses during the pandemic, keeping them safe through their Emergency Accommodation Psycho-social Support Service (EAPSS) program. While H2H is being established across all regions, cohealth have also been able to begin referring clients internally to receive H2H packages from both consortia.

Support during the pandemic

‘The pandemic was a very daunting, confusing time for clients when there were lots of services coming in and out,’ Emma said. ‘It’s great that cohealth’s homelessness team were able to continue supporting clients during such a difficult time and ensure health and social needs were being met, Covid testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) was accessible, and information was being provided.

‘Now we’re leveraging that rapport and those relationships to seamlessly continue their support into the new program H2H. A lot of staff have transitioned from EAPSS to H2H, so clients have had the same cohealth worker through the entire pandemic, and then transitioned into their forever home, which is incredible for the client and incredible for the staff member. It’s rare in this sort of work to see outcomes to this extent.’

During the pandemic, cohealth did outreach to women and children who were fleeing family violence situations and staying in hotels, and those clients can now be offered a home through H2H.

‘These women were doing everything they possibly could to keep their children safe, to support their children to access school in a pandemic from a hotel. Somehow they pushed through, accessed health services, pre-natal care, sustained their own health and kept their family together. It was the hardest time for them. To offer a family a two-bedroom home with support; it’s the light at the end of the tunnel.’

Transformative benefits of permanent homes

cohealth has seen the transformative benefits of securing and transitioning homeless clients into permanent homes. A young woman in her late 20s had fled from a family breakdown, travelled to Melbourne without supports, and had been living in a chaotic rooming house when she was assaulted in her room. cohealth helped her access specialist services relating to the assaults and link in with the supports she required.

After initially engaging with the cohealth homeless team’s case managers and peer workers, the client began engaging with the cohealth homeless team’s GP and women’s specialist physio services. Rising above a traumatic event and environment, the woman decided to apply to undertake a nursing diploma, and cohealth supported her to secure all the things she needed to study including a laptop and access to the internet. cohealth then submitted a public housing application and requested a priority transfer because the rooming house was clearly unsafe. Often a priority transfer can take months, and to obtain a property offer can take months on top of that, but because her safety was imperative, cohealth pushed, advocated and got her into her own secure, permanent public housing property.

‘She’s moved in there and made friends with all the neighbours, she’s like the life of the community,’ said Emma. ‘She’s still going really well with her course and still touches base with her worker to say “I’m doing great”… but she doesn’t need the service anymore, an outcome the cohealth homeless team is attempting to achieve with all of the people it supports, getting to the point where people no longer need us.’

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