Kicking goals for oral health

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Poor oral health is one of many challenges faced by homeless people in Australia. Engagement with mainstream health services can be difficult for a range of reasons and even more so for those who are living on the streets or who don’t have a stable housing situation.

To support better access for homeless people in Brisbane, Metro North Oral Health Services has partnered with the Big Issue’s Community Street Soccer program. The Community Street Soccer program operates in all states and territories. Street Soccer is an innovative approach to engaging with people who may not be accessing traditional support systems. Launched in 2007 the program has engaged with over 7000 homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged people.

Research undertaken by La Trobe University in 2009 found a range of positive benefits for participants including: increased self-esteem, greater ability to obtain and retain employment, reduced smoking rates, improved health awareness, relief of mental illness symptoms and improved housing situation. Further research found that as a result of individual behaviour change and reduction in high-risk activities, there was an estimated a saving of $4.30 to the Australian community for every $1 invested in Street Soccer.

Following an approach from The Big Issue staff, Metro North Oral Health Services staff have attended the weekly soccer games held in a Brisbane park to provide information and advice about oral health and access to services. To help break the ice, the dentists and oral health therapist from Metro North have put down their dental instruments, donned their boots and joined the other players on the soccer field. Actively participating in the soccer program has encouraged a more social and relaxed engagement with the program participants. An initial survey found that around three quarters of the soccer program participants felt they needed some form of oral health treatment. Participants have been provided with information about eligibility and service locations, oral hygiene advice and general health information. Where appropriate assistance has been provided to access priority care for those most in need.

One of the participants who was provided with a new full denture through the Metro North program has also been selected to represent Australia in the next Homeless World Cup. Ronnie will be heading to Glasgow, Scotland in July as part of the Australian team to compete against 47 other national teams. Sixteen women’s teams will also particpate in the tournament.

Applications to participate in the tournament are invited from the 73 National Partner programs across the world. Applying countries undergo a lengthy evaluation process with the evaluation including assessment of capacity, development and growth, local partnerships, participation within the Homeless World Cup network, and communication, among other factors.

At the presentation of the team jerseys at Parliament House in February Minister for Health and Sport Sussan Ley said “(The program gives players) better nutrition, increased physical fitness and decreased rates of smoking and substance abuse are changing players’ lives for the better. The benefits of the program extend beyond the physical, with many players also improving their psychological wellbeing." 

The Big Issue CEO Steven Persson said “The Homeless World Cup is an opportunity for our Street Socceroos to connect with homeless and disadvantaged men and women from around the world in the spirit of friendship, social inclusion and fair play”.

It will be the eighth time Australia has participated in the Homeless World Cup. In 2001 and 2009 the team was awarded the Fair Play Award for sportsmanship and positive attitude.

This article was originally published in the June 2016 edition of The Health Advocate. To access current and previous issues, click here.