Homes North – UNE to pioneer social housing research

Published 19 February 2019

Social Housing provider for the New England North West region of NSW Homes North has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the University of New England (UNE) to better understand how homelessness and being housed impacts on people’s mental health.

The resulting “Housing Essentials” research project will be ground-breaking on a national level, according to Homes North CEO Maree McKenzie.

“This research and partnership with UNE will be leading the way in the social housing sector, nationally. Homes North is funding two PhD research bursaries which will result in new insights that will relate to anybody experiencing homelessness or being newly housed,” Ms McKenzie said.

“Scientific insights will enhance our approaches to people who are homeless, to better target and be sensitive to their needs.

“Importantly for our region-wide organisation, it will mean spending our money on programs with greater confidence in the value of our spend and the outcomes for our social housing tenants.

“Signing an MoU alongside UNE Vice-Chancellor Professor Annabelle Duncan was a milestone for Homes North Community Housing. We’ve been wanting to partner in research and training initiatives for quite a while and this MoU with UNE kicks a number of goals for us and our region,” she said.

Ms McKenzie explained how the sector has seen relatively little high-level research behind the development of knowledge, approaches and practices.

“As practitioners, we have anecdotal evidence but it is subjective, resulting from the experiences of our staff. That is valid but having quantitative data and neuroscience behind us will really lift our service to a new level.”

UNE Vice-Chancellor Professor Annabelle Duncan was delighted to sign-off on the new relationship with Homes North.

“This is a great opportunity for the University to help a community organisation support some of the most vulnerable in our communities throughout the New England North West,” Prof Duncan said.

“The Housing Essentials project will help people who are in community housing to get the support that they need and help the people working for Homes North to best provide that support, based on the research and teaching here at UNE.

“Ultimately, Homes North staff at the coalface will be better equipped to assist community housing tenants to have fulfilling, productive lives and contribute to their communities.

“This project is a really good innovation for both UNE and Homes North,” she said.

Co-Chair of the Project with Maree McKenzie is Christopher Sharpley, a Professor of Neuroscience in UNE’s Brain-Behaviour Research Group.

“The most recent research in the area of homelessness in Europe suggests that while many people have been victims of poor upbringing and have had tough things happen to them, there is a segment of the population that finds it very difficult to understand what is happening in their lives and this is referred to as ‘neurodevelopmental issues’ ,” he said.

“These people are not disordered or incapable but they do see things in a certain way.

“We will explore these issues and the effects of being housed. We all accept that it is great to be taken off the streets and given a home but there are many people who find that transition difficult to manage and find themselves back on the streets. We want to identify these people and measure the mental and physical effects of being housed. We can then help them to adapt and grow,” he said.

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