I haven’t read the new white paper on homelessness (anyone know where I can download it?) however I have a few brief words to say about homelessness.
Firstly, it’s my experience that chronic homelessness is usually the result of mental illness and the accompanying complications it causes. You could build a million new houses, and this wouldn’t significantly affect the number of people with mental health living on the streets.
Let’s just have a brief snapshot of the reasons people are homeless. The following is a survey conducted by services funded under the Supported Accommodation Assistance Service (SAAP) which is a joint Commonwealth and State initiative. In other words, they survey only applies to people who actively seek out homeless/emergency accommodation.
Most common reasons for houselessness (SAAP survey): (via homeless.org.au)
- Domestic and family violence (22%)
- Eviction/previous accommodation ended (11%)
- Relationship/family breakdown (11%)
- Usual accommodation unavailable (11%)
- Financial Difficulty (10%)
As you can see, mental health issues don’t appear on the results. This tells us clearly that the problem lays with the fact people with mental illness don’t significantly engage with emergency support services. This isn’t unusual, as the nature of many serious mental illness’s means that people become completely disconnected from society.
Here’s some mental health statistics to consider (via the MHCA)
- 62% of persons with mental disorders do not use mental health services1. Reported reasons are:
- stigma associated with mental disorders
- fearfulness of medical treatments
- poor distribution and costs associated with specialist services, and
- the inappropriate mix of medical and psychosocial services provided by government-financed systems.
Let’s look at the funding for mental health in Australia. According to the MHCA, Australia spends a meagre 7% of it’s entire health budget on mental health services. When you consider that Mental Health accounts for 20% of the cost of the health budget, then you’ll soon see why this number is inadequate. When compared to other western country’s whose mental health budget is between 10-12% of the total health budget, it becomes obvious that we’re lagging serious behind.
The Government should be commended for making homelessness a national issue, and I’m sure that their initiatives will help a large number of people. However, unless as part of the strategy includes a significant increase in mental health spending, then people with mental illness will continue their slide through the cracks.