Aligning Mental Health with Housing and Homelessness

The WA Government is in the process of developing a 7 year mental health, alcohol and other drug accommodation and support strategy with the aim of providing better accommodation and services for people for people living with a mental illness. This will be aligned with the WA Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drug Services Plan 2015- 2025 and the WA Affordable Housing Action Plan and the WA State Homelessness Strategy - when it is finalized.

The link between mental health and homelessness is unfortunately very strong, and evidence shows that mental health problems are exacerbated by homelessness. Aside from being stressful due to the lack of stability, people experiencing homelessness often don’t have the emotional support of family and friends that are crucial to good mental health. For this and many other reasons people with a mental illness often experience homelessness for longer periods, and are at a higher risk of multiple periods of homelessness.

Mental health problems were the second most cited reason for seeking assistance from specialist homelessness services around Australia (just slightly behind financial problems). And due to the unpredictable nature of mental illness, it is possible that this figure is in reality even higher. The affordable housing crisis is also contributing to problems for people living with a mental illness.

Due to the constant demand for public housing, many people with a mental illness find it difficult to secure suitable accommodation. Further, in many parts of the community there is still a stigma attached to mental illness which makes it even harder for people to secure housing, especially in the private rental market. Research also shows that people suffering from long-term health conditions such as mental illness are likely to experience multiple disadvantages such as low income and difficulty finding and maintaining employment.

At a homelessness week event in 2017 the Mental Health Commissioner, Tim Marney, said: "43% of mental health patients could have been discharged if they had a safe home to go to". Given the crucial role that housing plays in creating the basis for someone to address other problems such as mental health, this is both a challenge and an opportunity for the WA government to get greater alignment between mental health, housing and homelessness policy and service delivery.

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