Housing and mental health funding critical for women

Schizophrenia is a common mental illness that affects many women living at McAuley House. It is a long term illness with symptoms that can be both distressing and disorientating. It is one of the most heavily prejudiced disorders and is often misunderstood and feared by the general public. This can be isolating for those living with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia and can impact on their self identity and their relationships.     

The illness is one of the many reasons why we offer a respite service for women living in the community. Depression and anxiety are other common mental health issues. Of the 60 women we supported in McAuley House last year, 66% women had been diagnosed with a mental illness, and all were homeless or at risk, when they arrived.    

As we have just marked Mental Health Week, it is important to reflect what this service aims to achieve for the women we support. It allows them to return to McAuley House, our accommodation and support hub, whenever they need, to help them back on their feet.

Ours is an important service because we help prevent women’s mental health from deteriorating further. But the service, like community mental health accommodation in general remains woefully underfunded.

Currently McAuley Community Services for Women receives funding for four ‘mental health’ beds for women through Victoria’s adult residential rehabilitation program. However, this funding will be allocated to the National Disability Insurance Scheme with no guarantee that replacement accommodation will be available. With Victoria’s current housing crisis, the State cannot afford to lose any women’s accommodation and nor do we want to see more women sleeping on the streets as a result of NDIS.

There is a glimmer of good news on the horizon with the recent release of the Infrastructure Victoria strategy. The 30-year strategy has called for a major investment in affordable and social housing, with at least 30,000 new affordable homes to be built within the next decade. It also urges government to develop “a comprehensive plan for providing access to affordable housing, either through subsidies or increasing supply.” The 134 recommendations overall are worth around $100 billion.

We welcome the strategy, and its direction.The lack of affordable housing is a problem for women who are homeless and also for low-income earners who are living under extreme financial stress. These include women who have escaped family violence and are working part-time.

Infrastructure Victoria has also recommended significantly expanding crisis and transitional housing by up to 1,000 new places to support at-risk people. From our perspective, this investment is vital and has to be rolled out alongside the new supply of affordable housing. Without affordable housing to move into, the bottleneck of crisis accommodation will continue to build.

We are also pleased to see a number of other recommendations about housing, such as expanding rental assistance programs, refurbishing and replacing current public housing, removing planning barriers for affordable housing, introducing inclusionary zoning and providing the private sector with incentives to invest in property.

McAuley Community Services for Women has long called for these initiatives to be funded at a state and federal level.

After all, housing is a basic human right.

18 October 2016