Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Launch of Mental Health Council of Australia’s Report – Home Truths: Housing, Homelessness and Mental Health in Australia

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Thank you for your introduction. The Prime Minister is unfortunately not able to be here this morning and he asked if I would convey to you his apologies.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Ngambri and Ngunawal people, and pay my respects to their Elders both past and present.

Homelessness is a window into the lives of Australia’s most disadvantaged – people affected by the rising costs of housing, by domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness.

It is an all too familiar sight.

In our cities and in many of our towns – people sleeping on our streets – without access to shelter, food, health and adequate mental health care. There are 16,000 people each night across Australia sleeping rough.

There are another 88,000 Australians each night who are also homeless – sleeping in crisis shelters or on someone else’s couch.

We know that many of these people are living with a mental illness.

Studies estimate that about a third of people who are homeless in inner city areas have a severe mental illness.

We know that about a third of all clients using our homeless crisis services also seek treatment for mental health issues. While there is no one path into homelessness – there are clearly strong links between homelessness and mental illness.

People with severe mental illness and without family and clinical support are especially vulnerable to homelessness.

The converse is also true: unstable housing can cause deterioration in a person’s mental health.

Home Truths – the Report I am launching today by the Mental Health Council of Australia – looks at the connections between housing, homelessness and mental health.

I congratulate the Mental Health Council of Australia for this detailed and thorough report.

It is a welcome addition to the research about homelessness – focussing specifically on the needs of homeless people with a mental illness.

It looks at some of the best models to support and accommodate people experiencing mental illness.

And it sets out ten ‘home truths’ – foreshadowing what will happen if nothing is done for the needs of these Australians.

While this part of the report makes for bleak reading – I am pleased to tell you that hope should not be lost.

The Australian Government has made reducing homelessness a national priority.

I was very proud to launch the White Paper on Homelessness – The Road Home – with the Prime Minister just before Christmas.

The White Paper lays out a plan for tackling homelessness until 2020.

It came with significant additional funding of $1.2 billion over 4 years.

This is a 55% increase in funding for homelessness.

The White Paper also set ambitious goals and I am confident that they can be achieved.

By 2020 we aim to halve overall homelessness and offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it.

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The additional $1.2 billion will fund targeted services to support homeless people.

It will also deliver new forms of social housing – including specialist supported housing for chronic homeless people who have a mental illness.

The Government shares the views set out in Home Truths that people should – where possible – be supported in their home with services which are tailored to their needs – rather than having clients going from agency to agency trying to piece together the services they need.

As the Hon Rob Knowles, the Chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia, says in his foreword to Home Truths: Australia already hosts several innovative, high performing services and models of effective housing support for people with a mental illness. They are not waiting to be invented, just waiting to be supported and propagated.

As part of the White Paper we will see more of the successful models like the Housing Accommodation and Support Initiative – or HASI – that has worked so well in NSW.

Or the Common Ground model of housing and support that is already up and running in SA and getting off the ground in Victoria, NSW and Tasmania.

There are other specific initiatives which target homeless people with a mental illness which will be funded by the White Paper.

The Australian Government will provide around $20 million under the fourth round of the Personal Help and Mentors Program in the first half of this year to deliver additional community based mental health services to difficult to reach people including homeless Australians.

Up to 1,000 disadvantaged Australians – including homeless people – will benefit from these additional community based mental health services.

Home Truths talks about the importance of thinking through the transition from statutory care to the outside world, particularly for those whose vulnerability is increased by mental illness.

It remains unacceptable to simply discharge people from a mental health care into homelessness.

As part of our White Paper and through the Australian Government’s National Partnership agreement on homelessness, the States and Territories have agreed to work towards a ‘no exits into homelessness’ from statutory, custodial care and mental health settings.

We will also fund a national homelessness research and data strategy which will be developed over the next 12 months and include research on pathways in and out of homelessness and research on underlying causes of homelessness.

Last month, as part of the Government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan – the second of the Government’s stimulus packages – we committed a record additional $6.4 billion to public and community housing.

This is the single largest investment ever made by any Government in social housing.

This injection of an additional $6.4 billion over four years will be spent on building 20,000 new social housing and repairing a further 10,000 homes which would otherwise be lost to public housing stock.

An additional 20,000 new social housing dwellings will help many Australians with mental illness to find affordable and stable housing.

In turn it will also help us to meet our targets on homelessness – by providing permanent exit points from our crisis services.

And it will support jobs and contribute to the growth and reform of the social housing sector.

More broadly the Australian Government is committed to ongoing national mental health reform.

Minister Roxon wants to achieve:

  • better integration of mental health services and more seamless service delivery that responds flexibly to people’s needs;
  • an evidence based approach which reorients mental health policy towards prevention and early intervention; and
  • developing an open and transparent system of evaluation and accountability.

We are also making significant progress in other very important areas of the health portfolio.

We have negotiated new Commonwealth-State funding for health, including mental health, with the announcement of $64 billion in funding for state health systems and national partnership payments.

We have established a National Advisory Council on Mental Health and are developing a whole of government fourth National Mental Health Plan.

Australian Government funding for mental health specific programs will nearly double over the next four years to deliver $783 million from 2008-09.

This comes on top of the significant funding being provided through the National Health Agreement, Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The Australian Government is determined to reduce homelessness in Australia.

We know that many homeless Australians are also living with mental illness.

That is why we have provided historic levels of additional funding for housing and homeless services. We have also put in place strategies to prevent and respond to homelessness.

For me, success will mean three things:

  • fewer people becoming homeless.
  • where, despite our best efforts, people do become homeless, they will be moved quickly to permanent housing with specialised support.
  • the underlying causes of homelessness will be dealt with. We will do more to intervene early to prevent homelessness.

Success is not possible with out the tireless work and strong commitment of people working on the front line – those at home caring for a relative with mental illness, those working in our mental health services, shelters and hospitals.

It is also not possible without the benefit of reports such as Home Truths which usefully highlights the specific housing needs of people with mental illness and lays out strategies for addressing these critical needs.

It now gives me great pleasure to launch the Home Truths report.