, Volume 90, Issue 4, pp 699-716
Date: 26 Jun 2012

Housing Instability among People Who Inject Drugs: Results from the Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey

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High rates of substance dependence are consistently documented among homeless people, and are associated with a broad range of negative outcomes among this population. Investigations of homelessness among drug users are less readily available. This study examined the prevalence and correlates of housing instability among clients of needle syringe programs (NSPs) via the Australian NSP Survey, annual cross-sectional seroprevalence studies among NSP attendees. Following self-completion of a brief, anonymous survey and provision of a capillary blood sample by 2,396 NSP clients, multivariate logistic regressions identified the variables independently associated with housing instability. Nineteen percent of ANSPS participants reported current unstable housing, with primary (‘sleeping rough’; 5 %), secondary (staying with friends/relatives or in specialist homelessness services; 8 %), and tertiary (residential arrangements involving neither secure lease nor private facilities; 6 %) homelessness all evident. Extensive histories of housing instability were apparent among the sample: 66 % reported at least one period of sleeping rough, while 77 % had shifted between friends/relatives (73 %) and/or resided in crisis accommodation (52 %). Participants with a history of homelessness had cycled in and out of homelessness over an average of 10 years; and one third reported first being homeless before age 15. Compared to their stably housed counterparts, unstably housed participants were younger, more likely to be male, of Indigenous Australian descent, and to report previous incarceration; they also reported higher rates of key risk behaviors including public injecting and receptive sharing of injecting equipment. The high prevalence of both historical and current housing instability among this group, particularly when considered in the light of other research documenting the many adverse outcomes associated with this particular form of disadvantage, highlights the need for increased supply of secure, affordable public housing in locations removed from established drug markets and serviced by health, social, and welfare support agencies.