Homelessness is an issue close to the hearts and minds of many Australians. In Melbourne, the number of people sleeping rough increased by over 70% in the last two years and is now considered to be at emergency levels. . The proposed ban from public camping (or ‘rough sleeping’) in the City of Melbourne earlier this year, further sparked the highly emotive and polarised public debate of the problem. . So topical is this issue that SBS are currently broadcasting a reality TV show, Filthy Rich and Homeless, to draw attention to what it’s like to be homeless.
We all know the problem is complicated, expensive and has no simple solution. There are various structural causes of homelessness, including unaffordability of housing, people escaping domestic violence and a lack of social housing. As highlighted by Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood, a multifaceted approach to addressing the problem is needed, 
“This is about trying to get them onto pathways, whether that’s housing, whether that’s mental health assistance, whether that’s substance abuse assistance — these are really, really, complex problems.”
One organisation proving its effectiveness at solving the problem of homelessness is Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI), winner of this years Social Impact Measurement Network Australia’s (SIMNA) Excellence Award. In late 2016 WPI published Visible Changes: Investment evaluation of women’s community housing, which highlighted the positive social return on investment (SROI) of providing long-term stable accommodation to women and their families. 
WPI undertook an analysis of the SROI for their service of providing 66 homes to women and their families in a 12-month period over 2014- 2015. They found that for the $1.3 million cost, there were approximately $15.5 million of social outcomes.* The main benefits from the women tenants are summarised in this aggregate survey response statement:
“Since WPI, I now feel safe and secure (80%). I am happier about where my life is going (78%) and I am able to better deal with problems (69%). I now know where to get the help when I need it (70%) and I feel more confident facing new challenges (64%). I am much more employable than I was before (38%). My kids are doing better at school (64%).”
As well as benefits for women and their children, the report also highlighted important benefits for the Victorian Government: avoided justice, public housing and health costs. The benefits to the Government amount to $1.79 million, which more than exceeds the cost of the program.
The SROI report was celebrated by the SIMNA Awards judges for its inclusive approach to measurement. As quoted by one judge:
“They have articulated what outcomes they are impacting on and have adopted an inclusive approach to the development of their social impact measurement. This includes involving highly disadvantaged clients in the process. Given that this is a relatively small organisation the effort that they have put into social impact measurement is also commendable.“
The stakeholder engagement method used by WPI was multifaceted. WPI tenants were directly consulted in the process via:
- In-depth semi-structured interviews for a sample of tenants, conducted at the homes of tenants, and
- An online survey distributed to all tenants housed at the time (67% response rate).
Community agencies referring and working with women were also consulted using in-depth semi-structured phone interviews. Finally, WPI employees were engaged in discussions across the SROI process to test and validate the insights and results throughout the evaluation project.
The leadership shown by WPI in delivering this report shows that social impact measurement it is not just for large organisations. At the time of the analysis, WPI had an income of $1.4 million and only 6 staff, yet it was able to win the award by demonstrating the social benefit of providing long-term accommodation solutions to homeless women and their families.
Importantly, the impact report and methodology is completely transparent and freely available, with quality assurance provided by Social Value International. This gives other organisations working on similar problems the opportunity to benchmark their own impact against that of WPI. In time, this will help bring higher quality, higher impact solutions to the problem.
The SIMNA Awards were held on May 10, 2017 as part of the Think Outcomes conference. The Awards are held annually and will have a new and exciting format for 2018. For sponsorship opportunities and enquiries contact Mike Davies on firstname.lastname@example.org
* This represents a SROI of 11.32. When all financial proxy values were reduced to the lowest value for the emotional outcomes, the SROI ratio was still positive, but declined to 7.66.
- Witte, E. 2017 ‘The case for investing in last resort housing’, MSSI Issues Paper No. 10, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne.
- James Hancock, 7 Feburary 2017. Melbourne homelessness: Council votes to ban camping in the city. ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-07/homelessness-in-melbourne-city-council-bans-camping/8248506
- Women’s Property Initiatives (2016). Visible Changes: Investment evaluation of women’s community housing. Available at: http://wpi.org.au/sites/default/files/WPI_Assured_Report_G.pdf