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 is a development in Gungahlin which opened for residents in July 2015 and 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.
CGC is working with the ACT Government in planning a second Common Ground development in Dickson, for which funds have been allocated in the ACT Government’s current budget.
The Common Ground model has features in common with that of MyHome in Canberra, and as the ACT Government is following the Common Ground model for the Dickson development, the MyHome Board will keep closely in touch with CGC.