Part 3. Prof Guy Johnson's personal reflection on a career understanding homelessness and housing in

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This is the final instalment of our three part chat with Professor Guy Johnson, Australia’s first professor of homelessness and Director of the Unison Housing Research Lab. 

In Part 3, Guy talks about his early days working in emergency housing and his growing interest in homelessness, and what research projects he is most proud of.   

What sparked your interest in homelessness?

I had a part time job in the 90’s in an emergency housing service in Moorabbin.  I found the people I worked with really interesting to talk with as they had a history in the sector and a political interest in homelessness.  

At the time I was doing my Masters in Social Policy and was relatively unfamiliar with the homelessness sector. The position sparked my interest in wanting to understand homelessness better. 

In 1999 after Kennett defunded a lot of community agencies and implemented the THM program, I was working at Transitional Housing Service in St Kilda (Argyle Street Housing). I saw the same people I had come across looking for emergency accommodation in Moorabbin.  I wondered what was happening in these people’s lives and why they were still in this situation.  

I stumbled across a longitudinal study from the US that tracked people’s housing circumstances over a couple of years and thought it was marvellous. 

The housing and homelessness sector back then was really community based and collaborative with the local community involved in local social issues. The landscape is quite different now and much more competitive. I am not sure this is always a good thing. 

What research are you most proud of?  

Obviously, the work we are doing with Unison. Link to Lab publications The longer the partnership goes the more we are learning about the organisation and the people Unison works with.  

We think we have started to deliver research findings that can assist Unison, and feel that in the next few years we will be completing some really important research findings about social housing generally, and the experiences of social housing tenants more specifically.  

Prior to Unison three projects stand out. 

The Journey 2 Social Inclusion (J2SI) evaluation was a partnership between Sacred Heart Mission and Melbourne University. J2SI was a Sacred Heart pilot project that provided well resourced and intensive care intervention to break the cycle of chronic homelessness. The evaluation was the first successful Randomised Control Trial involving the homeless in Australia and one of only a few in the world. The results are remarkably robust. It was both challenging and satisfying and J2SI is now an ongoing program. Unison is one organisation that delivers J2SI.  

Journeys Home was a longitudinal study of factors affecting housing instability and pathways in and out of homelessness. The project with Melbourne University, provided advocacy work around the importance of long term public housing for at risk households. 

You can see I really enjoy longitudinal studies!  

Another I did with HomeGround and the Salvation Army Crisis Services, analysed over 5000 case records. Homelessness in Melbourne: Confronting the Challengelooked at, among other things, substance abuse amongst people experiencing homeless and what comes first – substance abuse or homelessness? It helped to shatter a few myths about homelessness, such as substance abuse and mental illness are primary causes of homelessness – they are not. Link to PDF 


More information about Guy’s work 

Unison Housing Research Lab papers

Additional publications and profile

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