What home for homelessness in new Mental Health System?

As of 1st August this year, the way community mental health services are delivered in Victoria will change dramatically. Firstly, the Psychiatric Disability Rehabilitation and Support Services (PDRSS) program has been renamed to the Mental Health Community Support Services (MHCSS). The reforms have been at least two years in the making, after the Victorian Government decided that mental health services needed to be delivered in a clearer, more effective way. There were 110 agencies delivering community mental health services in Victoria with a review of these services occurring in two stages. Stage one, which covers an estimated 47 agencies is now complete.

After developing the new system for service delivery, a tender process followed whereby organisations tendered to provide services under the new model. The tendering process is now over, and 20 organisations have been selected to provide the relevant services. No specialist homelessness services were successful in the tendering process, which has resulted in a reduction of funding to homelessness services of more than $4 million. This leaves significant unfunded activity for homelessness services working with people who also have mental health issues. In particular, drop-in centres that provide both community connections and ways in which to engage people in the service system may no longer be able to meet the needs of this very vulnerable client group.

Under the MHCSS, anyone who needs to access ongoing mental health support services will start by undergoing an intake assessment, which will be provided by one of three organisations (depending on the catchment) – Neami National, EACH or Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO).  Once a person’s needs have been assessed, the organisation will put together an Individualised Client Support Package (ICSP), which is a tailored suite of services from  between one to three organisations that have been funded to deliver these MHCSS program per catchment area. Clients and their carers are expected to have some choice over which organisations they are involved with under their ICSP. However, a finite amount of money is available to provide ICSPs and if there is not enough money available for an ICSP at the time the person is assessed, they will go on a waiting list. During this time the assessing organisation is obliged to make regular contact with the consumer to make sure they are coping.

People experiencing homeless have been identified as a priority group for these new services.  However, with the aim of being more targeted and efficient, it can be anticipated that there will be clients who don’t fit the MHCSS criteria for an ICSP and may struggle to find help under a model with stricter criteria. Although homelessness services that work with people experiencing homelessness and mental health issues are often funded from a range of sources, these cuts will significantly reduce their capacity to deliver services for people with complex mental health issues.

The transition

The government has allocated $2.3 million to support clients and service providers with the transition of client files.

Consumers of existing PDRSS services will be transferred to the MHCSS program service provider without having to go through the intake and assessment process, however this service will assist consumers to identify their new service and independant advice is available through VMIAC and the Carers Network.  However the transition resources will almost certainly be inadequate for old or new services to facilitate a smooth transition for consumers.

As yet it is unclear how new consumers seeking mental health service support between now and 1 August will be able to access those services.  CHP will keep monitoring the situation and post any updates as these access arrangements change.