Impact Report 2022—2023

Functional Zero – Ending rough sleeping in Melbourne LGAs 

Launch Housing is leading a new approach in Melbourne to solving chronic rough sleeping. Our Functional Zero program brings local services together, working in a coordinated and hyper-local way to get to know exactly who is sleeping rough and what they need to access and sustain housing. 

‘Functional Zero’ is the goal, achieved when no one in an area is sleeping rough – when any experience of homelessness in a community is rare, brief, and non-recurring. That means there’s enough appropriate housing for people entering homelessness to rapidly move into, permanently. 

In just a few years, six Local Government Authorities across Melbourne have embraced this methodology, stretching from the CBD all the way south to Dandenong. Functional Zero’s inception was entirely philanthropically funded thanks to the generosity of visionary donors, and now with funding from the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, the program is expanding its impact. 

As George Hatvani, Functional Zero Manager at Launch Housing, explains: “We get as close to a real time picture of what’s happening on the ground and the scale of it. In the five years since the project started, nearly 1,500 people have been recorded sleeping rough across these areas. We’ve managed to house roughly a third of those people. 

 Without these projects, we would not have been able to know that number, or the scale, or know how many people had moved into housing. 

“It’s enabled us to focus on these highly vulnerable, highly marginalized people and go, ‘right, what are the system barriers and system gaps for them?’” 

The power of knowing people’s names

It starts with building what’s known as a ‘by-name list’. A multi-agency team creates a list of every person who is rough sleeping in that community and records and maintains real-time data to measure progress. 

“We get to know everyone by name, understand their needs, and can provide an integrated service response. We can then genuinely work with them to help them find and sustain housing,” George says. 

People sleeping rough in our city are among the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our community. Most of the people we meet through the by-name list have experienced chronic homelessness for an average of eight to fifteen years.  

The trauma of street homelessness – including heightened risk of adverse health issues, violence and disempowerment – creates barriers that prevent some people from accessing the housing, health care and support they need to turn life around. 

“In the inner city, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are hugely overrepresented in the by-name list. Women are also much larger in the population of people sleeping rough than we’d imagined before.”  

By getting to know the people sleeping rough and bringing once disparate services together to coordinate support for people to access permanent housing, progress is happening – and we can track it.  

“Port Phillip in the middle of the pandemic, was nearly at 130 people active on the list. It’s now into the low 50s which is a huge change,” George explains. 

This system of response to homelessness in Port Phillip – from finding and linking with people to connecting them to housing and support resources – shows that rough sleeping can be something of the past. 

“In Stonnington, we’ve got a small list, but it’s within touching distance of hitting zero. It’s exciting, and difficult at the same time because the people who are left on those lists are the hardest to house.” 

The system barriers faced by people experiencing rough sleeping are clear and often an insight into the ripple effects of historic policy decisions. 

“Most of the people we meet through the by-name list have experienced chronic homelessness for an average of eight to fifteen years.”

Dandenong’s by-name list, for example, has a large cohort of extremely vulnerable asylum seekers. 

“People who arrived here by boat were demonised and marginalised, and the flow on effect of that has been a cohort of predominantly men who have had many years in detention, existing trauma, health issues, and who in some cases have no access to work rights, and are ineligible for public housing or Centrelink,” Hatvani explains.  

“This cohort is extremely vulnerable with no clear way out of homelessness who, without interventions, are on a pathway to destitution and early death.” 

Another large cohort in Dandenong are part of culturally and linguistically diverse communities, often of refugee backgrounds, marginalised through racism and trauma.  

Partnerships for hyper-local solutions

Launch Housing met Avalon through the City of Stonnington’s Zero project, and formed a natural partnership. 

It’s president, Deborah Holmes, founded the community organisation in 1987, with a goal to provide stability, security, and support including the provision of a home to the most vulnerable members of our community. 

Though based in Malvern, Avalon purchased flats in Dandenong and have also successfully housed people from the by-name list in Stonnington – where there was a real need.  

“We’re small and we’re trying our best to provide as much as we can for people on the streets and to get people off the streets” she says. 

“We’re very much hands on. We go out to the city, we go out to St Kilda and various places like Dandenong and give out the clothing and the bedding and the shoes and the toiletries and all that sort of thing.” 

“We want people who really have reached rock bottom to go up. What we can do, it’s a hand up, not a handout,” Deborah says. 

While Victoria is severely short on affordable housing options, collaborations like this help our most vulnerable people not only to get housing, but set up their home. 

“We provide everything in the home. Everything, you know, furnishings and crockery, cutlery, linen, whatever, food even. And then we have a supporter with each house,” Deborah says. 

“Launch Housing and Avalon, we’re working together, and I think that’s really important.” 

“I think we can learn a lot from one another, we can share a lot of incredible resources, networking. We could go out and see somebody who needs accommodation, and we can say, come on, we’ll show you a place.” 

George Hatvani says without the Stonnington Zero project, we would not have been connected to Avalon, and Avalon might not have known about the by-name list in Dandenong.  

“None of this progress would have happened without the by-name list, without the Functional Zero Project, without Port Phillip, without Frankston, without Stonnington… the network identifying who people are and connecting need to resources would not have happened if these partnerships didn’t exist.” 

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