Research draws portrait of homelessness

September 9, 2010

Homeless men suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at 20 times the level of the general male population while males who are roughsleepers or in crisis accommodation have spent an average of four years living on the streets in their lifetime, according a Murdoch academic.

Dr Paul Flatau from Murdoch University and Dr Lucy Burns of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre developed a detailed profile of participants in The Michael Project – a Mission Australia initiative aimed at reducing homelessness among Sydney men.

The Michael Project provides homeless men with access to a range of supports – for example dental and psychological health, personal grooming and hygiene, literacy and numeracy, self-esteem and personal fitness – in an effort to end their homelessness.

Around 250 homeless men – 40 per cent who were in crisis shelters or roughsleepers, 60 per cent from short- to medium-term accommodation – were involved in the survey.

The Michael Project’s portrait of homeless men includes:

–       95 per cent have been exposed to one or more traumatic events (for example experiencing or witnessing an assault) – often at adolescence – and exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at levels 20 times greater than the general male population.

–       Men who had ever slept rough and those in crisis accommodation had spent an average of four years living on the streets in their lifetime. Those in short- to medium-term accommodation had spent one and a half years.

–       69 per cent reported that they had a diagnosed mental health or substance use disorder.

–       69 per cent lacked supportive family members while 65 per cent had family-related problems.

–       Slightly more than 50 per cent of those from short- to medium-term accommodation had been in full-time work within the last two years.

–     81 per cent had entered the program with “very high levels” of psychological distress compared to 3 per cent among males in the general population.

Dr Flatau said the data would be hugely significant for governments and other agencies that design support for homeless men.

“This unique and in-depth portrait of homeless men is fundamental if we’re going to have the right policies and programs to move them out of homelessness,” said Dr Flatau.

“Despite the scale of homelessness – and the fact that all Australian governments have agreed to targets for reducing it by 2020 – there is much we don’t know about homeless people.”

The three-year initiative of Mission Australia’s – made possible via a generous individual donation – tests the theory that access to a range of health, education and social supports can help homeless men improve their well-being and social and economic participation and improve their access to sustainable housing.

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Media contact: Hayley Mayne
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