Homelessness evaluation third communique

30 October 2020
The Department of Health and Human Services is continuing to evaluate selected homelessness initiatives for their impact at client, service delivery and system levels, to determine the factors that contribute to a successful, more outcomes-driven and unified homelessness system, based on evidence of the appropriateness and effectiveness of initiatives, and their funding efficiency. This complex evaluation is being delivered in four phases, three of which are complete.

Evaluation of new homelessness initiatives: towards an outcome driven and unified system - Communique 3 – October 2020

Phase 3: Program evaluation through a system lens

Phase One identified four key system related issues: continued use of output measures limits evidence of program impact; some commissioning and contracting approaches constrain services in being able to provide what clients need; limited service connectivity prevents people’s access to the right service at the right time; and complex funding arrangements inhibit innovation and integration on the ground.

Phase Two focussed in on key processes used to fund and monitor homelessness programs. This aimed to identify aspects of the department’s system architecture and administration internal where output measures constrain efforts to design and deliver more integrated or outcomes focussed ways of addressing homelessness. Current homelessness funding that is focussed solely on accountability for outputs is not flexible enough to design and deliver more client centred approaches, or measure impact on people’s lives and well-being.

Phase Three program evaluations found persistent systemic barriers across the homelessness service landscape as well as possible starting points for change. The program evidence highlighted that:

  1. service access improves where relationships and close physical proximity between services create a sense of common purpose, trust and accountability.  We encountered homelessness services partnering in new ways with other agencies, making cross-sector access happen for people in need;
  2. when transitions between services fail, it generates demand in other systems, creating or prolonging homelessness and its attendant issues. Common system concepts such as ‘housing pathways’ and ‘support continuums’ were found to be the exception rather than the norm;
  3. a principle of flexible and tailored support to sustain housing is limited in practice by service boundaries and criteria, or a focus on compliance – rather than driven by the priorities and perspectives of clients.
  4. change readiness for the move towards an outcomes focus in the homelessness sector is highly emergent but not uniform; and
  5. services are constrained by inflexible funding conditions. They cannot respond creatively to the complex service delivery realities they face.

Phase three of the evaluation crystallised a key paradox facing the homelessness service system:

The homelessness system frequently compensates for failure in other service systems, at the same time as being largely unable to fulfil its own key role in the system of providing accommodation options for people in need, due to a lack of housing supply.

The six individual programs evaluated in Phase 3 for appropriateness and effectiveness address a variety of cohorts and objectives. Providers will receive feedback on their program specific evaluations as part of the final reporting process in early 2021. Phase Four of the evaluation will conclude in early 2021 with some reduction in scope due to the demands of the COVID working environment. The systems aspect of the evaluation will draw on a developmental evaluation approach undertaken with service provider partners instrumental in delivering the COVID Isolation and Recovery Facilities and Respite and Recovery Facilities.

For further information, please contact:

Alison Fraser Principal Project Officer Homelessness and Accommodation Support   e: Alison.fraser@dhhs.vic.gov.au

Mariana Ricci Senior Project Officer Homelessness and Accommodation Support e: mariana.ricci@dhhs.vic.gov.au  

Programs individually evaluated in phase 3 of the evaluation
Table 1: Programs individually evaluated in phase 3 of the evaluation
Overview of progress and key insights of the 'Evaluation of new homelessness initiatives'
Figure 1: Overview of progress and key insights of the 'Evaluation of new homelessness initiatives'