Mental illness and homelessness
Studies (for example, this by AHURI) have shown that in many cases mental illnesses are a factor in homelessness: those with long-term mental illnesses frequently have problems in finding suitable accommodation and remaining in it. They often have difficulties in managing their housing alone, or in resisting housemates and friends who take advantage of them, unless they have family members who can house or support them.
Problems with standard housing
Mental illness can make sufferers unable to manage well or feel safe in public housing, or in social housing in which they live alone. For some with mental illness, houses designed for group living with the support of caretakers or “house parents” provide suitable homes. But group houses do not suit those with mental illnesses who want some independence in their housekeeping and social lives, while still wanting more security and support than in ordinary housing. A survey conducted in early 2019 by Carers ACT among those in its network has added to evidence of people with mental illnesses needing accommodation which combines independence with support. These are the ones for whom the MyHome model of care is intended.
Numbers in need in ACT
The 2016 Census showed there were 1,596 people in the ACT who were homeless – a large number, although fewer than in the previous Census in 2011 and a slightly lower percentage of the ACT’s population.
One marked change was that the number of those in supported accommodation for the homeless had increased to 793, about half of the total and a high proportion compared with elsewhere in Australia, although fewer than the 1,103 recorded in 2011.
The 2016 Census data contain no correlation of homelessness with mental illness, except that the 1,596 homeless people in the ACT included 99 who had “need for assistance with core activities”.
Common Ground began as a development in Gungahlin which opened for residents in July 2015 and has operated since then, to provide residents with permanent supportive housing rather than a temporary service. It has 40 units, of which 20 are for people who were formerly homeless and 20 are affordable housing for people with limited incomes. The community organisation Common Ground Canberra (CGC) played a vital role in its establishment, including through obtaining substantial non-government donations to accompany funding from the Commonwealth and ACT governments. Argyle Housing manages all the residents’ tenancies and Northside Community Service provides personal support services to those residents who need them.
The ACT Government has financed and built a second Common Ground development in Dickson, which opened in mid-2022. It too has 40 units, of which 20 are for people who were formerly homeless and 20 are affordable housing for people with limited incomes. CHC manages all the residents’ tenancies and YMCA provides personal support services to residents who need them.
What’s currently envisaged for MyHome in Canberra has much in common with the Common Ground model, since we now propose in partnership with Wesley Mission that MyHome be integrated in its design, building and operation with an adjoining development of affordable rental housing. For residents the key difference we envisage is that the development would have an area reserved for community living of residents in the MyHome units, as well as areas they would share with residents of the affordable rental housing and for some purposes with the wider community.