At my first official event in the prescribed role as Lived Experience Co-Chair Western Australia Alliance to End Homelessness, I was engaged to be the first of two opening speakers at the Australian Zero Homelessness Summit Brisbane held at the Brisbane Convention Centre on August 24-26, 2022. Below is an excerpt of my speech from the event where I shared my own story, before providing a summary of the Advance to Zero approach to end homelessness.
Imagine migrating from your home country to Australia, to live The Great Australian Dream! The belief that in Australia, homeownership can lead to a better life and is an expression of success and security.
I was sold on that dream for over 15 years. However, in 2008 a life changing event happened to my family, and that dream turned into the reality that far too many Australians are now facing in 2023… Loneliness, poverty and homelessness.
As we drove past the Primary School at the bottom of our cul-de-sac, we could see our daughters on the oval, playing happily with their friends. We pulled up into our carport and our dog, Nishi ,greeted us with his usual enthusiasm as we arrived home.
I went to put the kettle on and my wife and soulmate went to sit on the lounge suite. Nishi was as quiet as a mouse. He could sense something was wrong.
We had just returned from the hospital, where my wife, Dawn, had been told in a matter of fact manner that she had bowel cancer. Her cancer had metastasised to the liver and we were told she had approximately three months to live.
Our world was shattered in an instant!
After Dawn’s passing, and having spent a small fortune on alternative therapy in Italy, I could not now afford the mortgage on our home. I found myself struggling with my grief and sole parenting of my nine and eleven year old daughters.
My doctor advised me to self-admit to the Mental Health Unit for my own safety. It was then that I knew I had officially hit rock bottom.
However, it turned out to be the best thing that had happened in quite some time. All of a sudden, this world of supports became available and I was able to begin the long climb back to health and wellness. Most importantly I was able to support my two daughters whilst they completed year twelve and began their careers.
This summit is filled with executives and leaders all looking for permission from somebody to act on ending homelessness.
“If we don’t change our thinking, how are we going to make a difference? Everyone in this room has to challenge normal thinking. There are people in this room who have ended homelessness. It is possible, because people have done it”.
So for those who are still waiting for permission, then I give you that permission.
I must have struck a chord, as the whole room of 300 plus delegates stood and gave me a rapturous applause.
You can read more about the summit in the official WA Alliance newsletter by Sarah Quinton: Committing to Hope: Australia’s first Summit to End Homelessness
The following is my summary of the Built for Zero approach to end homelessness, developed by Community Solutions of Canada and adapted in Australia to become the Advance to Zero methodology.
Advance to Zero Ending Street Homelessness in Communities Around WA
Advance to Zero, as it is known in Australia, is derived from the ‘Built for Zero’ approach, born out of the United States. It is a rigorous international change effort working to help a core group of committed communities end homelessness.
Developed and driven by Community Solutions, this international effort guides participants in developing real time data on homelessness, optimising local housing and support resources and tracking progress against monthly goals.
The AtoZ methodology is a comprehensive approach to ending chronic rough sleeping in Australia. It is based on the principles of a "Housing First" strategy, which prioritises the provision of permanent housing to those experiencing homelessness, rather than temporary or transitional options.
My own interpretation of the elements of AtoZ are listed below. The AtoZ methodology is explained in 26 elements, each representing a different aspect of the process of ending chronic rough sleeping.
These elements are:
Assessment: An individualised and thorough assessment of each person experiencing homelessness to determine their specific needs and vulnerabilities.
Bridges to Housing: Building relationships and connections between individuals experiencing homelessness and the support and services they need to secure and maintain housing.
Coordination: Collaboration and Coordination between different organisations and agencies working to end homelessness.
Data Collection: Regular collection and analysis of data on homelessness to inform policy and practice.
Engagement: Active engagement with individuals experiencing homelessness to understand their needs and preferences.
Flexible Funding: The provision of flexible funding to support the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness.
Goals and Outcomes: Clearly defined goals and outcomes that are regularly reviewed and updated.
Health: An integrated approach to health and housing that addresses physical and mental health needs.
Income: Assistance with securing income, including employment and social security benefits.
Joint Planning: Joint planning and decision-making between individuals experiencing homelessness, service providers, and government.
Key Worker: A dedicated key worker to provide support and advocacy for each person experiencing homelessness.
Leasehold: The provision of long-term, secure leasehold arrangements for individuals experiencing homelessness.
Management: Effective management of housing and support services to ensure they are responsive to the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness.
Navigation: Assistance navigating the complex systems and processes involved in securing housing and support services.
Outreach: Outreach services to engage with individuals who are experiencing homelessness and to build connections with the broader community.
Pathways to Housing: Clear pathways to housing and support services that are tailored to the individual needs of each person experiencing homelessness.
Quality: A focus on quality and evidence-based practices to ensure the best outcomes for individuals experiencing homelessness.
Rights: The protection and promotion of the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness, including the right to safe and secure housing.
Support: A range of ongoing support services to help individuals maintain their housing and independence.
Tenancy Sustainment: Assistance with tenancy sustainment, including financial management and problem-solving.
Understanding: An understanding of the causes of homelessness and the impact it has on individuals, families, and communities.
Vulnerability: A recognition of the vulnerability of individuals experiencing homelessness and a commitment to addressing their needs and addressing their vulnerabilities.
Wellbeing: A focus on improving the wellbeing of individuals experiencing homelessness, including their physical and mental health.
Xcellence: A commitment to continuous improvement and excellence in ending homelessness.
Youth: A specific focus on addressing the needs of young people who are experiencing homelessness.
Zero Tolerance: A zero-tolerance approach to homelessness, with a commitment to ensuring everyone has a safe and secure place to call home.
The AtoZ methodology is a holistic and evidence-based approach to ending chronic rough sleeping in Australia. By prioritising housing and support, and addressing the complex needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, it has the potential to bring about real and lasting change.