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Increasing numbers of Australians accessing homelessness services


Amanda Lyons 15/12/2017 10:49:44 AM

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found one in 84 Australians accessed homelessness services in 2016–17.

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The complex nature of their needs means homeless patients often require a more flexible approach to healthcare. Image: Tony McDonough

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) Specialist homelessness services annual report 2016–17 revealed that 288,000 Australians were assisted by specialist homelessness services agencies over the past year, which equals about 119 per 10,000 people.
 
Additionally, people who had previously accessed homelessness services outnumbered new clients for the first time since data collection began in 2011–12, making up 51% and 49%, respectively. Common issues for returning clients included mental health issues (61%), people exiting custody (64%) and people with drug and/or alcohol problems (69%).
 
When assessing overall reasons homelessness assistance was sought, the AIHW report found family and domestic violence issues increased by 9%, to 40% of clients (115,000 people), while those with mental health issues rose by 7%, to 27% of clients (77,600 people).
 
Dr Edward Poliness, a GP at the Living Room, a Melbourne-based primary health service for homeless people, has witnessed the complexity of issues for people experiencing homelessness first-hand.
 
‘Most people are homeless not because of a single issue, but because of the “Swiss cheese” model of crisis with multiple things going wrong at the same time,’ he told newsGP.
 
In Dr Poliness’ experience, GPs who wish to provide assistance to homeless patients need to ensure their practices are accessible to this population, and are able to take a flexible approach to the complexity of their needs.
 
‘They need good healthcare that’s not only preventive but considers them in a bio-psycho-social-spiritual way, that individualises to their needs,’ he said.
 
For this reason, healthcare for homeless patients often requires a multidisciplinary approach, in which the GP is part of a team.
 
‘The model we use [at the Living Room] is based around having a doctor, a nurse and various other allied health staff members,’ Dr Poliness said.
 
‘The podiatrist we work with is amazing – for a lot of homeless people, being able to get around on healthy feet is very important. We’ve also got a mental health nurse, a psychologist and a dual disability worker.’
 
The AIHW report also found that the number of unmet requests for assistance has fallen, with the 95,000 unmet requests for homelessness services in 2016–17 a drop of close to 5000 from the previous year.


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