Homelessness and mental health: connected and both failed by government inaction
As Homelessness Week comes to an end, we need to remember the link between homelessness and mental health conditions: that each can result in and exacerbate the other. And both have suffered from significant underfunding and chronic inaction from all levels of government.
“Stable, safe and quality housing is a foundation for mental health,” said Acting CEO of the Mental Health Community Coalition, Corinne Dobson.
“It is no surprise that many people experiencing homelessness or uncertain housing in the ACT are also living with mental health conditions.”
“People living with a mental health condition are at an increased risk of homelessness, as some can find it challenging to earn a stable income, and they are more likely to be socially isolated. On the other hand, the psychological distress of being without a stable home increases the risk of mental health conditions and can exacerbate existing conditions.
“The mental health and homelessness systems are failing people with complex needs. We know the solutions, yet there has been insufficient action, leading to yet more people suffering.”
In the ACT, more than half of the people who present to specialist homelessness services (SHS) have a current mental health issue, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW). Over the past decade, the proportion of people presenting to homelessness services who have mental health issues has nearly doubled.
“The rate of people with a current mental health issue seeking homelessness services in the ACT continues to increase and is well above the national average,” said Ms Dobson.
The latest AIHW data shows that there were 492 SHS clients with a current mental health issue per 100,000 population in the ACT in 2020–21. This is up from a low of 415.2 per 100,000 population in 2018–19 and is significantly higher than the national average of 391.7 per 100,000 population.
“The best, proven method to help people with mental health conditions who are experiencing homelessness is to provide safe, stable housing,” said Ms Dobson.
“We need more preventive programs designed to support a person to sustain a private rental property when they experience a mental health episode and prevent them from experiencing homelessness.
“We also need more permanent supported housing for people who have experienced long-term homelessness and may have a range of mental health challenges.”
This model, which integrates housing and mental health supports, is proven to help keep people with mental health issues out of the homelessness cycle and provide them with the support they need to recover.
Media contact: Angel Hellyer, Communications and Events Manager, 0493 388 756 | firstname.lastname@example.org
MHCC ACT is the peak body for community-managed mental health services in the ACT. Find out more about MHCC ACT at www.mhccact.org.au.