Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Brisbane: Homelessness

Claire Moore (Queensland) 7.29pm

Today in the Mural Hall there was an expo of services that are being provided in our nation for people who are homeless. For the first time in my experience in this place there was due respect and acknowledgment given to the very important work that a number of agencies are doing in this very difficult field. One of the organisations that was showcasing the work they are doing was Micah Projects from Brisbane. Micah is an extraordinary organisation. It has been working in the Brisbane area with a true mission to create justice and to respond to injustice at the personal and structural levels of society. It aims to break social isolation and build community. Micah Projects works across a range of social justice fields in the inner Brisbane area and its services have been acknowledged by a number of governments, both in Australia and internationally, for its professionalism and the compassion which it provides.

A key program that Micah is now involved in is called 50 Lives 50 Homes-and that is the badge in a beautiful yellow that I am wearing at the moment. This is a campaign to house and support Brisbane's 50 most vulnerable homeless people. This project is being worked on by a range of people in the Brisbane community. It gathers partners from government, not-for-profit organisations, business and citizens who are committed to ending homelessness for people in Brisbane. A wide range of clubs and organisations have been involved. The 50 Lives 50 Homes project was made possible with the support of the Mater Foundation and it has worked with the principles that have been developed in the US by an organisation called Common Ground USA. It is an amazing and reputable organisation which was founded in 1990 by Peter Ezersky and Rosanne Haggerty. They have the mission to end homelessness by creating environments that foster growth in individuals and the development of supportive relationships.

They have a three-pronged strategy which has proved to be successful. They have a commitment to affordable housing that is linked to services to help people rebuild lives and get back on their feet individually. They have a commitment to outreach-to identify and house the most vulnerable and to develop a vulnerability index which surveys and identifies chronic homelessness. This particular index is the tool which has been used by Micah in Brisbane for its current project. The third part of the Common Ground program is prevention, which looks to address and tackle social and economic factors that cause homelessness in order to prevent it.

Common Ground have the runs on the board. To date, they have helped over 4,000 people to conquer homelessness. They have built and maintained permanent and transitional housing in the US and they have plans for the future. One of their programs is called Street to Home, which was proved to decrease homelessness by 87 per cent in one neighbourhood in New York City.

The Common Ground process relies on effective partnerships and one of the organisations with which they have developed an effective partnership is Micah in Brisbane. A wonderful relationship has developed between these organisations. It involves people from Micah travelling to New York and working on the ground there and people from Common Ground coming and sharing their wonderful knowledge with us in Brisbane. One of the processes that have been used to work on the 50 Lives 50 Homes project is a survey that was conducted in inner city Brisbane between 7 June and 11 June this year. During that period, between the hours of 4 am and 6 am-and I might have been there-12 teams, made up over 70 community volunteers, canvassed the streets of Brisbane's metropolitan area. Specialised teams also worked with food vans, in emergency accommodation, youth services and squats. The locations were based on current knowledge of the hotspot areas in Brisbane.

The volunteer teams used the Common Ground USA vulnerability index to survey and create a personal, by-name registry of individuals who were experiencing chronic homelessness and rough sleeping and those who were really at risk of premature death. Over 100 volunteers in total participated during the week by helping with the data entry, administering the surveys, fundraising for household items and providing meals and support for the people who were working.

The project relied on people being engaged personally and actually feeling trust in the system. People were able to systematically gather the names, pictures and dates of birth of individuals sleeping on the streets. They captured data on their health status and institutional history. That is a really important point: these were people who had been in prison or hospital and, in some cases, people who had been in the military. They captured data on how long they had been homeless and the patterns of crisis accommodation use-the idea, as we know, of the merry-go-round of services that end up with them still being lost without any sense of belonging or future.

The data was collected by using a 38-item questionnaire that again used the methods that had been developed by Common Ground. The vulnerability index was used to identify those who had been homeless the longest and who were the most vulnerable. This register will now be used to target new and available housing and services to the most vulnerable in an effort to make a real difference in reducing chronic homelessness within Brisbane.

The index is based on research by Dr Jim O'Connell of the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program. His research shows that certain medical conditions place a homeless individual at a higher risk of dying than others if they remain on the streets. The at-risk indicators showed the number of people who had psychiatric, medical or substance abuse problems and the number of times that people had been involved in ER services over the previous year or three months. They also showed their age, HIV status, general health conditions such as cirrhosis or liver condition and kidney disease and also any history of vulnerability to cold or wet weather injuries.

All of this data being pulled together will give us a real basis on which to build plans for the future. The whole concept of having the 50 homes for the 50 people who are the most vulnerable means that there is an accountable and transparent way of seeing what results can be achieved within a set time. We need to put together the full program, give ourselves clear goals and work effectively with our partners-and the list of people who want to be involved in this project is very long-to ensure we get results.

Among the issues that are looked at is the age of the people-and we know that there are particular age groups that are most vulnerable, such as young people who are under the age of 20. I heard from one of the project workers today about a young woman who was a student from overseas working at one of the universities. She had not had the confidence or the ability to link in with the support services of the university and she was actually sleeping out, because she did not know how to get the services that were available. Micah was able to immediately link her to the services provided by the university. Another case that was mentioned today was that of a young man who had left home and had lost many links with his family and friends. Through the process of filling out the survey, he was able to be reunited, with help from Micah, with his family in Cairns. That is an amazing, immediate result of the personal, strategic way that this program is operated.

The idea of matching together 50 homes and 50 lives indicates that this is a start and that there are real outcomes. One of the most interesting things about the way this is working is that people are using the various social networking sites to share facts and information. Through the US process there has been usage of things such as Twitter. So the volunteers who were working on the ground over the weekend in Brisbane were not only putting together information and talking about their experiences but also sharing it with other agencies in the US so that they could learn and find strength from each other and also celebrate the results.

I truly respect the work of Micah Projects in Brisbane. Their coordinator, Karyn Walsh, has been involved in so much of the social justice work that is being done in our community. This one project is part of the overwhelming scheme that is being carried out through the work on homelessness. They are working effectively with the government through their white paper process, which means that progress is being made on the critical issue of homelessness. We can learn from this and we can celebrate the results.