Australian investors are putting their own money into housing people struggling with homelessness, and it’s proving an effective way to tackle the crisis, researchers say.

South Australia has served as a test case for the country’s first social bond targeting homelessness.

Many who’ve gone through the program have found stable housing through it, according to Flinders University and University of Western Australia researchers.

Social impact bonds involve private investors financing social service programs, with governments repaying the investors when targeted outcomes are achieved.

The Aspire program in South Australia has provided three years of support, with a final report to be released on Monday by Premier Peter Malinauskas to coincide with the start of Homelessness Week.

“Aspire is clearly a successful program which has had a positive impact on so many lives, not just helping people in their moment of crisis but setting them up for the longer term,” Mr Malinauskas said.

Flinders University research fellow Veronica Coram said some of the participants had lost all hope by the time they came to the program.

“The final report finds Aspire was a life-changer for many participants who avoided continued rough sleeping, jail or hospitalisation, and whose health and wellbeing would otherwise have declined further,” she said.

The majority of 575 people on the three-year program have turned the corner after getting help with stable housing and support for trauma, health and mental health conditions, drug and alcohol addiction, and disability needs.

“It’s a gift that I can’t even begin to explain to you,” one participant, who did not want to be named, said.

Chair of Homelessness Australia Jenny Smith said the “dire” housing situation is at the centre of Australia’s cost-of-living crisis.

The advocacy group will release a plan in Canberra on Monday to cut rental stress in half within five years and end it by 2032.

“Building more social housing, investing in affordable rentals, lifting JobSeeker and raising Commonwealth Rent Assistance are critical to this plan,” Ms Smith said.

Woeful under-resourcing means there is no end in sight for the homelessness crisis, RMIT cultural geographer Dr David Kelly said. Many forms of homelessness essentially ceased in 2020 because of COVID-19 lockdowns.

“Stay-at-home orders demanded a well-resourced homelessness response and unconditional access to shelter,” he said.

Ending homelessness requires a whole-of-government response along the precarity pipeline, Dr Kelly said.

The Victorian government on Monday announced $3.7 million to go towards a new housing project in St Kilda.

Social Ventures Australia chief executive Suzie Riddell said the final report on the Aspire program will show private investment in high-quality programs can change lives, and save the taxpayer money.

She hoped sustained “wraparound support” for people experiencing homelessness for many different reasons can be used to create impact at an even greater scale.

Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)