Real Streets of Europe

As part of Homelessness Week Associate Professor Lisa Wood, based within the School of Population and Global Health at UWA, spoke about her experiences and findings from a recent trip to Europe where she immersed herself in the homelessness sector in England, Scotland and Finland. Lisa undertook the trip as part of a mid-career research fellowship funded by the UWA Faculty for Health and Medical Sciences to learn more about homelessness programs, research and challenges in other countries.

Associate Professor Lisa Wood

Lisa reflected on the importance of anticipating unintended consequences when introducing strategies and policies to tackle homelessness. 

In the UK for example, the Homelessness Reduction Act puts greater onus on hospitals and prisons not to discharge someone to homelessness, and local authorities have an obligation to find people housing, but  there is a shortage of housing and funding to ensure this has the intended impact. In Finland, Housing First has made enormous inroads into ending homelessness, but Lisa heard first-hand that there are still the ‘hidden homeless’ living temporarily with family or  friends, and there are some signs that youth homelessness in Helsinki may be on the rise.         

One of the challenges faced by all three countries and shared in Australia is the importance of health and mental health services as part of the collective response to ending homelessness was highlighted.

Lisa spoke about some of the homelessness initiatives that it would be good to see more of in Australia. Lisa reflected that the social enterprise sector was more mature in Europe as a way to provide training and employment options for people who have experience homelessness. And it is much easier there to find a café or coffee shop where funds go back to support homelessness.

The role of people with lived experience was more prominent also in England, Scotland and Finland, with mature peer to peer advocacy and support programs in place, and a growing number of programs employing people with a lived experience of homelessness in service delivery. The role that pets play in the lives of people who are homeless seems more recognised in the UK, including a dog friendly homelessness GP practice in Edinburgh, and in London the Dogs on the Street outreach service that couples veterinary care with support for their owners and connecting them to services.

[L-R] John Berger, Chairperson of the Western Australian Alliance to End Homelessness; David Cain, Executive Director of Service Delivery and Design at Communicare.

As part of her trip Lisa presented at the International Homelessness and Health conference in London, and met many people wanting to hear about how homelessness is being tackled ‘down under’.

She spoke positively about many of the initiatives happening in WA that we should be internationally proud of, such as the 50 Lives 50 Homes project. The cross-sectoral collaborative project between a range of Perth-based agencies, including homelessness services, housing agencies, health providers, and mental health and community services.

The 50 Lives After Hours Support Service (where a Homeless Healthcare nurse and Ruah support worker visit clients once they have been housed) was particularly envied by people involved in homelessness and Housing First initiatives elsewhere, and UWA research shows that this is helping clients to sustain their tenancies, as well as improving health outcomes.


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