Let's look at how we treat people who are homeless

The past month has seen McAuley Community Services for Women advocating through submissions about how Melbourne treats people sleeping on the street, budget funding and the effect of the National Disability Insurance Scheme on our homelessness service.

City of Melbourne and its proposed changes to camping in the city

Around 11 per cent of women who come to McAuley House have experienced ‘rough sleeping,’ and for many years we have offered support to the City of Melbourne as part of a collective bid to resolve homelessness.

However, as CEO Jocelyn Bignold said, we cannot support the proposed amendments to the Activities Local Law 2009 because the new wording is so broad it effectively criminalises rough sleeping in the city.

“While we acknowledge that the City of Melbourne faces a complex situation with an increasing number of people sleeping rough in the city, it is not illegal to be homeless,” she said.

McAuley believes that the proposed amendments will further stigmatise people who are homeless.

“We understand the proposed amendments are designed to ensure public places are clean, safe and accessible for all community members, but the reality is that the factors contributing to homelessness are well known and include poverty, housing affordability, family violence, mental illness and unemployment. Many of these are structural factors that are beyond the control of individuals, and as such, individuals should not be blamed for their homeless state.”

McAuley was among 30 agencies which wrote a public letter during January pointing out that homelessness is a long term, systemic issue which cannot be solved by quick fixes that are aimed primarily at making the City look pretty for visitors and workers.

“Our view is that the City of Melbourne should use its considerable influence to negotiate long-term, sustainable solutions, including affordable housing investment through state and federal governments. In the short-term the City, which has a good record in public consultation, should meet with the people who are homeless and service providers to discuss how best to manage their possessions while they try to find somewhere to live. This can be done in conjunction with existing outreach services such as the Royal District Nursing Service and the Salvation Army and in conjunction with a fast-tracked housing plan,” Ms Bignold said.

National Disability Insurance Scheme and McAuley House

The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme looks set to have a direct impact on McAuley’s ability to deliver housing and support services to women who are not eligible for the NDIS and who are experiencing homelessness and have a serious mental illness.

Currently McAuley Community Services for Women receives over $500,000 in residential rehabilitation and home and community care funding. This funding is currently bundled to provide accommodation and support to close to 60 women annually and at an individual cost of around $22,000 per annum.

“However the Victorian Government has shifted community mental health funding in Victoria into the NDIS and, together with a lack of clarity of who is eligible, the result is likely to be an unintentional lack of support and a reduction in mental health and housing services. The NDIS was not designed to be a substitute for social services,” Ms Bignold said.

In a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS, McAuley has advocated for further investment and longer-term arrangements for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH).

“This funding will not only enable people with mental illness to access secure stable housing but also access to the support services required if we are to break the cycle of homelessness,” she said.

McAuley Community Services for Women is also urging the Joint Standing Committee to recommend that all spending on mental health through the NDIS is tracked and publicly reported, and that the Federal Government monitors the impacts of the NDIS on people with psychosocial disability to ensure people have all their health, housing and disability requirements met.

In January 2017, we reviewed the cases of 24 women currently living at McAuley House to determine NDIS eligibility. We know that 8 of the 24 are immediately ineligible because of their age or citizenship status. We are unclear about the rest.

Of the 24 sample group we know that:

  • 96% experience episodic mental health
  • 88% experienced family violence
  • 46% have chronic physical conditions
  • 42% experience chronic suicide ideations
  • 100% of women were homeless before coming into McAuley

Funding for housing and mental health needed – Budget submission

McAuley Community Services for Women has applauded the Victorian Government on its leadership and investment in family violence and encourages it to continue, saying more is needed in housing and mental health.

“Victoria is well ahead of the rest of Australia in addressing family violence at a systemic level, with a two-year $572 million funding package to achieve transformational change,” CEO Jocelyn Bignold said.

In its submission to the 2017/18 Victorian Budget, McAuley Community Services for Women argues for investment to ensure that women and children experiencing family violence are supported longer term and that the whole system is enabled to act quickly to hold perpetrators of violence to account.

“Our monthly statistics reveal that most families leaving our safe house go onto refuges or couch surf with family and friends, neither of which are long-term sustainable options. Most feel, or are, unsafe to return home. All need better access to long-term counselling, financial and other practical support,” Ms Bignold said.

Our submission also highlights the need for further investment into alternative options of accommodation and support services such as McAuley House. The value of well designed, purpose built accommodation was evident in the very first days of occupancy. We have witnessed extraordinary changes in the lives of women who have recently moved in, particularly in their wellbeing and confidence.

Services such as McAuley can and do work with women to overcome the issues that compounded their homelessness, particularly ill health, isolation and poverty. Once housed, we can also ‘step in’ if their situation puts their housing at risk again. We do this from the respite care model that we adopt at McAuley House. This model allows us to maintain contact with women once they are in their own accommodation, enabling them to seek support when they require it and, at the same time, maintain their housing.

“We encourage the government to continue to invest in specialist accommodation and support services because it works and is a cost effective alternative to allowing people to ‘recycle’ through the system,” Ms Bignold said.