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Mentally ill at risk of slipping back into homelessness

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Anna Patty
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People with a mental illness are at risk of being stuck in a "revolving door" in and out of homelessness without support to help them keep their public housing, new research has found.

A new study to be released by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre has found a lack of support for people with mental illness has resulted in many slipping back into homelessness.

The report said many people who took part in the study felt that the "lack of support and lack of sensitivity" by government housing officers and private real-estate agents had robbed them of dignity and self-worth.

"These feelings were often compounded when they were assigned social housing accommodation in areas that lacked social cohesion and were dysfunctional, unsafe and remote from necessary amenities and support services," the report said.

"Many participants recounted how they felt like “garbage dumped on a tip”, forced to live in situations that exacerbated their feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression or stress.

"For many participants, there was a common feeling of it being too difficult to remain in their accommodation, and a temptation to return to life on the streets."

Some people involved in the research did not understand lease arrangements and the need to pay rent and a bond in advance, which placed them in immediate financial trouble. Some found it difficult to come off the streets because the social housing they received was in an unsafe area which had isolated them from support networks, transport and necessary medical services.

The biggest difficulty many had in sustaining accommodation was the stress, anxiety and fear they felt living in areas with high crime, poor amenities or problem neighbours.

"Sometimes it feels like a prison ... the whole area is just generally scary, you know," one study participant said.

Another complained of drug and social problems where they lived.

"It can be very isolating particularly on Sundays ... there’s no transport," they said.

That sense of isolation often resulted in people returning to life on the streets.

"It [the street] feels like where I’m supposed to be. I miss it. It’s where my mates are ... Sometimes it seems like it’s easier to go back on the streets," one person said.

Another study participant said: "You can take the person off the street, but you can’t take the street out of the person."

Senior policy officer Lou Schetzer said, while it was important to house the homeless with mental illness, it was pointless to do so without also providing the support and services they needed to retain that tenancy.

"Otherwise they are at high risk of returning to the streets," he said.

Mr Schetzer said the pressures of sustaining a tenancy, such as negotiating relationships with neighbours, lease obligations and rent were challenging to manage for people with mental illness.

"Without the supports there is a likelihood of a revolving door of going into homelessness," he said.

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