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From Homelessness to a Home: Housing First Principles in Practice from a GreenLight Program Perspective


Georgia Griffin, Team Leader of the Project Greenlight Program at VincentCare Victoria

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

The GreenLight Supportive Housing Program works from a Housing First approach to support people to make the transition from chronic homelessness and rough sleeping to long‑term housing. Greenlight supports people to address their unique experiences of homelessness, as well as health and wellbeing.

A Case Study

PJ is a transgender woman who had been sleeping rough off and on in the City of Melbourne for many months. PJ moved to Melbourne from regional Victoria with her greyhound Siouxsie but, when her shared house fell through, she was able to access accommodation in a private rooming house. PJ was assaulted several times by other residents and when the rooming house manager found out she had a dog, PJ was told to leave.

PJ was able to meet with a social worker in a local Housing Access Point, who referred her to the Ozanam House Crisis Accommodation Service. Pets of the Homeless were able to provide emergency boarding for Siouxsie while PJ was staying in crisis accommodation. When PJ accepted a community housing property offer, her Ozanam House key worker made a referral to the GreenLight Program. GreenLight worked alongside PJ and her key worker to access rent in advance, apply for a bond loan, and to purchase essential household items. Once PJ had moved into her new property, she was able to pick up Siouxsie from her emergency boarding.

PJ’s GreenLight supportive housing worker would meet PJ for fortnightly home visit appointments. PJ identified she would benefit from support to understand her tenancy rights and responsibilities and to establish a budget to manage her expenses. The GreenLight housing worker supported PJ to access key local health services and a referral to the Justice Connect Legal Service to waive outstanding fines incurred while she was sleeping rough.

PJ also worked with the GreenLight mental health and wellbeing worker to access LGBTIQA+ mental health support and would eventually access a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) package. PJ was linked up with the GreenLight peer settlement support worker, and together they would attend outings to explore PJ’s new community. PJ would later be inspired by her peer settlement support worker to engage in studies and to volunteer at her local op shop. Without the multidisciplinary support accessed within GreenLight, PJ would have struggled to make the transition from homelessness to a home.

Pilot, Purpose and Consortium

The GreenLight Supportive Housing Program was established to address the increasing issue of chronic long‑term and reoccurring homelessness across Melbourne. GreenLight commenced in 2019 as a Victorian Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Action Plan pilot program and consists of three agencies covering different catchments across inner-metro Melbourne. These include: Sacred Heart Mission (City of Port Philip), Salvation Army (City of Yarra) and VincentCare Victoria (City of Melbourne).

Housing First/Trauma Informed Approach

GreenLight recognises that traditional approaches to addressing chronic homelessness have been ineffective and a Housing First Model needs to be adopted to support people transitioning from chronic homelessness to long‑term housing. Most GreenLight clients have also experienced traumatic events in their lives — both as a precursor and as a direct result of homelessness. Understanding how clients respond to and cope with the ongoing impacts of trauma is an essential component of the GreenLight approach.

Multidisciplinary Approach

GreenLight approaches client support from a multidisciplinary Housing First Principle. Supportive housing workers provide wrap-around case management, while working in partnership with GreenLight mental health and wellbeing workers, and peer settlement support workers.

Housing Support Worker

The role of the supportive housing workers is to deliver assertive case management support to assist clients to establish and maintain their tenancies. Client support is goal orientated and person centred to address individual needs, and ranges from intensive to floating support. This approach recognises that, as people’s needs change, services should adjust accordingly.

Mental Health and Wellbeing Worker

The GreenLight mental health and wellbeing workers offer an additional layer of dual diagnosis support. This covers brief interventions, linkages to local allied health services and Greenlight staff capacity building via secondary consultation.

Peer Support

The GreenLight peer settlement support workers are integral in assisting people to transition from homelessness to a home. Peer workers utilise their lived experience to form partnerships with clients. Connection is prioritised to promote mutual growth, instead of the need to adopt a ‘helping’ role in supporting clients.

Resettlement and Sustaining Tenancies

Resettlement is incredibly difficult for people with histories of chronic homelessness without access to ongoing supports. GreenLight’s sustaining tenancies approach has a strong focus on building and maintaining collaboration between the housing provider, client and supportive housing worker to promote positive tenancy management and assist people to remain housed.

Lack of Housing

One of the biggest challenges GreenLight faces is the increasing demand for safe and affordable housing. Rapid access to housing works to keep people off the streets and disrupts the perpetual cycle of homelessness. However, from a GreenLight perspective, Housing First in Australia has been hindered by the lack of appropriate affordable housing stock in metropolitan Melbourne and the growing number of people applying for social housing on the Victorian Housing Register. Increasingly we are seeing long delays with the processing of priority housing applications on the VHR.

Recurrently Funded

To date, Housing First projects have generally run as pilot programs or with time-limited funding as a response to homelessness, rather than a recurrently funded commitment from government. The Housing First model is now recognised as best practice for ending chronic homelessness.

In order to ensure that more like PJ don’t fall through the cracks, we must continue to urge the Victorian Government to properly support and fund Housing First programs like, and including, the GreenLight Program

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

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