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In The News

Mentally ill 'miss out on housing'
6th April 2006
By Simon Kearney
Publication: The Australian

The architect of the policy that released thousands of people from asylums says the Howard Government is still failing to answer the need for accommodation for the mentally ill left on the street.

David Richmond - who wrote the seminal 1983 report that set out how the mentally ill should be deinstitutionalised, or cared for in the community - said yesterday the Government had passed the buck on the supply of supported accommodation.

While providing $1.8billion yesterday for much-needed mental health services, John Howard said accommodation was up to the states, who, he said, should follow his lead.

But Professor Richmond told The Australian that leaving supported accommodation funding to the states would "only get us back into more difficulty".

The lack of supported accommodation had led to many mentally ill people living on the street or in substandard boarding houses, Professor Richmond said.

"The total network of care must involve supported accommodation," he said.

"It's an inappropriate device to say one does this and the other does that."

In an article in The Australian last year, Professor Richmond called for new policies, particularly supported accommodation for the mentally ill, due to the increasing problems of drug-induced psychosis, changing demographics and the fact private accommodation was becoming less affordable.

The Prime Minister agreed yesterday with critics of deinstitutionalisation, saying the lack of intermediate accommodation - envisioned by Professor Richmond in his report - had led to many people living in refuges.

"You need some intermediate accommodation," Mr Howard said. "Somebody can have a mental illness. They can go to a GP, get referred to a psychiatrist, get on to some medication, but if they don't have somewhere to go, they'll pretty quickly lapse back into perhaps committing a crime, being on the streets, and we just don't have enough support mechanisms to look after them."

However, Mr Howard said it would be up to the states to provide the funds, because housing was a state issue.

Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW chief executive Rob Ramjan was impressed by the prime ministerial stamp put on the issue and the funding, but said there needed to be federal money for supported accommodation.

"We've gone through some real rollercoaster rides in giving people with a mental illness their own home," he said.

"Traditionally it's a state role. That doesn't close the door on a new state and federal housing agreement.

"Support for people with disabilities has been a federal issue in the past. This is not an area that is traditionally state, this is an area where the federal Government has put dollars and services through the states to people with a disability."

Mental health activist Peter Schaecken said that up to $3billion a year was required to provide adequate mental health care nationwide, to match the recent recommendations in a Senate report.

"What this package appears to target is the unmet need - there's not much for existing clients," he said. "It's a good start, but it nowhere near addresses the need. The money's nowhere near enough."

Mr Schaecken said joblessness among people who had schizophrenia ran at about 93 per cent.

"The federal Government needs to put more resources into community services - there's not one cent for early intervention," he said.

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