This week is Mental Health Week 2016 (9 – 16 October), which aims to activate, educate and engage about Aaustralians about mental health. The relationship between mental illness and homelessness has long been recognised. Last year, 12,824 people who presented at homelessness services in Victoria (around 12% of all presenting clients) cited mental health issues as one of the reasons they were seeking assistance. This compares to 10,772 presenting clients the year before. Our services are seeing more people with mental health issues come through the doors.
Mental illness is exacerbated by the instability of homelessness, and further compounded by the absence of support networks such as family and friends. For this, and many other reasons, people with a mental illness who are homeless often experience homelessness for longer periods, and are at a higher risk of multiple periods of homelessness.
This mental health week, the Council to Homeless Persons wants to highlight the critical role that appropriate housing plays in maintaining good mental health.
In his 1993 review of the human rights of those with mental illness in Australia, the then-Human Rights Commissioner, Brian Burdekin, observed that one of the biggest problems for people with a mental illness is the absence of adequate, affordable and secure accommodation.
Australia’s affordable housing crisis is contributing to problems for people living with a mental illness. People with mental health issues are finding themselves in caravan parks, rooming houses and crisis accommodation, where their health goes unchecked and often declines. With 32,000 Victorians waiting for public housing, many people with a mental illness are finding it difficult to secure suitable accommodation.
Many people with mental illness also struggle to access support to improve their health and quality of life. With the roll-over of Victoria’s mental health community support services into the National Disability Insurance Scheme from 2017, supports currently available will change, and more people are expected to miss out. This will increase the numbers of people with mental illness who become homeless.
In many parts of the community there is still a stigma attached to mental illness which makes it even harder for people to secure housing in the private rental market, either independently, or as part of a sharehouses. To make things worse research also shows that people suffering from long-term health conditions such as mental illness are likely to experience multiple disadvantages such as low income and difficulty finding and maintaining employment.
CHP dedicated an entire issue of its flagship magazine, Parity, to mental health in the February 2014 edition ‘Innovation in Mental health and Homelessness’. You can order a back copy of the edition by contacting Noel Murray.