Who uses IAP services?

New research by the Unison Housing Research Lab has analysed the records of over 12,000 households that accessed Unison’s Initial Assessment and Planning (IAP) service between 2012 and 2018. 

Unison’s IAP service assists approximately 3,500 households who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in western Melbourne. IAP services are the front door to the homelessness service system which means that access to homelessness resources, including, financial assistance, transitional housing, private rental programs and specialist support services, occurs via them.

Using longitudinal administrative data from this high-volume homelessness service, the research examined service use patterns over the six-year period to understand the proportion of new service users each year and over time, and whether an association exists between the characteristics of service users and their service use patterns.

“This latest piece of research provides an opportunity for Unison to explore opportunities to enhance the delivery of our homelessness services. In particular, we are interested in using the research to break the cycle for repeat service users and improve outcomes for them,” said Ed Holmes, Unison CEO. 

The research found that there are four distinct patterns in the way people use Unison’s IAP service. While 67% of all the households presented to the service just once, a smaller group of ‘regular users’, comprising 10% of all households, returned in multiple years and had multiple support periods in those years. 

To understand who the regular users are and how best to assist them, the research studied the data from several perspectives, based on personal characteristics such as gender, age, family situation, employment status. The assumption based on studies of shelter users overseas, was that regular service users would be significantly more likely to have mental health issues or problematic substance use, and more likely to be male or single.  

In fact, the research revealed that, contrary to commonly accepted assumptions, no single attribute or set of attributes predicted whether households return or not.

“Looking at the dataset as a whole, and with a focus on service delivery, meant that the overall impact of variations in household characteristics were put into a bigger picture,” explained Dr Sarah Taylor, researcher at the Unison Housing Research Lab. 

“Our results suggest that for the IAP service to use household characteristics to ‘predict’ who might come back would produce many false positives and result in inefficient use of scarce resources.”

Mr Holmes said that the report provided important learnings for the sector and governments. 

“Thanks to our partnership with RMIT, Unison has access to practice-driven housing and homelessness research which helps to further shape service design and improve service outcomes,” Mr Holmes said. 

“Despite the capacity to track households, there has been no published academic papers on patterns of homelessness service use over time in Australia before, that we are aware of,” Dr Taylor added.  

“This research highlights the opportunity longer-term data offers to understand more than the ‘who’ and ‘how many’ of homelessness service use,” she added. 

The executive summary and the full report can be accessed at unison.org.au/about-us/publications





About Unison: 

Unison is a not-for-profit organisation that works to reduce disadvantage and social exclusion by creating communities that thrive. We develop and provide a diverse range of housing services across Victoria and in Adelaide, including social housing, affordable housing, private rental, transitional housing and owners corporation services. Unison is also one of the largest providers of services for people who experience or at risk of homelessness in Melbourne’s West. Find out more at unison.org.au


About the Unison Housing Research Lab: 

Established in 2017, the Unison Housing Research Lab is a unique education and research collaboration between RMIT University and Unison Housing. The Lab is funded for five years to undertake innovative housing and homelessness research informed by the experiences of services users and providers. Find out more at unison.org.au/about-us/research-and-advocacy 

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