Support helps homeless: research

Nevil Pierse
Nevil Pierse
The key to long-term housing for homeless people is being supported to find a home, and receiving ongoing specialised support services to improve their wellbeing.

The discovery was made in University of Otago-led research which studied the health, income, and justice outcomes of 387 people in the first five years after they were housed in a Housing First programme.

Lead researcher and University of Otago (Wellington) He Kāinga Oranga Housing and Health Research Programme co-director Prof Nevil Pierse said those in the study were supported into housing between 2014 and 2017, by The People’s Project, based in Hamilton.

Researchers used information from the Integrated Data Infrastructure — a large-scale database containing microdata about people in New Zealand.

The researchers then built a detailed overview of the group’s interactions and outcomes, before and after being housed, looking at indicators of people’s physical and mental health, including justice system interactions, income and employment.

The information was anonymised so individuals could not be identified.

He said the research showed there had been a dramatic improvement in both the physical and mental health of those housed through The People’s Project.

"In the fifth year after this group of people was first housed, the number of hospitalisations continued to fall significantly, by 44%.

"There were considerable reductions in the number of mental health beds required.

"Mental health inpatient unit bed nights reduced by 63% and mental health residential unit bed nights reduced by 73%."

He said the number of prescriptions filled rose as well.

"Together, these results indicated improved management of ongoing conditions, and reduced reliance on emergency or acute services.

"This is better for individual’s quality of life and lessens the burden on our healthcare system."

Prof Pierse said there was also a drop in the number of interactions with police and court, including a 43% reduction in criminal charges.

Incomes also grew, as did the number of months people paid tax, he said.

The People’s Project general manager Kerry Hawkes, who was also involved in the research, said she was delighted with the "exceptional" five-year results.

She said they improved upon earlier results of the programme from two years ago.

"From our experience, we see every day that the Housing First approach works, and that many people’s lives improve over time with consistent specialist support.

"This research confirms our understanding."