Facing an ‘unmet need’

A DEMONSTRATION project aimed at easing the homelessness crisis facing Gippsland’s mental health patients is at capacity and pushing for continued funding.

The Doorway project, an innovative partnership between the State Government, Latrobe Regional Hospital’s mental health services, the Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria and local real estate agents, is based on a New York model which aims to accommodate people with a mental illness in private housing and support their efforts to live independently.

Since its inception 18 months ago, Doorways has provided stable housing and ongoing case management support to 20 people in Gippsland and 30 in metropolitan Melbourne.

Doorway program coordinator Lauren Kelly said State Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge recognised the pressing need to find housing for some of Gippsland’s most vulnerable people when she announced this region and Melbourne would be sites for the demonstration program.

The Express has previously reported on the chronic shortage of supported accommodation for Valley people battling mental illness, with key service providers claiming it was the region’s greatest “unmet need” given the “exponential” growth in the number of locals now requiring mental health care.

At the time, one service provider attributed the crisis in part to some general public housing stock no longer being earmarked specifically to people with a mental illness.

Doorway spokesperson Kerryn Garner said 42 per cent of people with a mental illness were homeless or “living in tenuous housing”.

A key recommendation of the Federal Government’s recently released 2012 National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention was “no-one should be discharged” from services and care arrangements “into homelessness”.

The recommendation recognised people with mental health difficulties faced “difficulties accessing social housing” and Ms Kelly confirmed this was prevalent across Gippsland.

“The need is so great here; this is such an issue…there are still many people in boarding houses, run-down caravans, couch-surfing or in the (LRH) in-patient unit with nowhere to go,” she said. “It’s just not a good situation that so many are homeless or at risk of having absolutely nowhere to go”.

Ms Kelly agreed public housing was usually the “first port of call” for vulnerable people seeking accommodation but “there is a complete lack of that”.

“This project is about support and enhancing participants’ recovery though… we can find people houses but if we don’t support them to maintain it, make changes in their lives, find a job… then they will still be in and out of it,” she said.

A number of real estate agents across Latrobe City and Baw Baw Shire had thrown their support behind the project, Ms Kelly said.

Ms Kelly said her key aim was to see Doorway funded as an on-going project “so it can be sustainable and when (participants) no longer need our support they have a private rental history and references, for example, and they can then negotiate for themselves”. LRH director of mental health Cayte Hoppner said the project fit with the hospital’s focus on “social inclusion” and efforts to see people with a mental illness “access stable housing so from there they can be better connected to the community, get jobs and access healthcare”.

Ms Kelly and Ms Hoppner agreed feedback had been overwhelmingly positive so far.