Early intervention to stop children and young people becoming homeless could save taxpayers millions of dollars in health, legal and custodial services, an Australian-first study has found.

The Lifecourse Institutional Costs of Homelessness for Vulnerable Groups study led by UNSW’s Professor of Criminology, Eileen Baldry, followed the lives of 11 people now aged between 23 and 55 and found that between them, they had cost State and Commonwealth Governments almost $22 million.

One young woman who first came into contact with criminal justice and human services agencies at the age of 12 had cost more than $5.5 million in police, juvenile justice, welfare, housing, health and legal aid services by the time she turned 21.

The lowest cost for any of the individuals in the study was $960,000.

Of the $22 million, $14 million was associated with 'control' agencies such as police, corrective services, juvenile justice, and courts and $8 million was for support costs including housing, welfare payments, health and disability services.

Professor Baldry said maintaining secure and supported housing is key to people staying out of the criminal justice system.

“Early and well-timed interventions to establish and maintain secure housing and associated support services will reduce, if not obviate, the need for the future years of criminal justice interventions.”

“A significant change in the way government human service agencies approach this small but extremely costly group of people is required,” she said.

Releasing the research to mark Universal Children’s Day, Minister for Housing and Homelessness Brendan O’Connor said the figures were “truly staggering.”

“These costs are still ongoing - to tackle homelessness, we have to understand what makes some people vulnerable and what delivers long term results,” he said.

 Mr O’Connor said the research further underscores the importance of the Government’s goal to halve the rate of homelessness by 2020.

The study builds on an ARC Linkage project led by Professor Baldry, People with mental health disorders and cognitive disability (MHDCD) in the criminal justice system in NSW. The MHDCD project created a dataset containing lifelong administrative information on 2,731 people who have been in the NSW criminal justice system.

Read The Australian [paywall] article here.

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