Follow me on:

An Open Letter To The Victorian Government

An open letter to the Victorian Government dated 20 February 2014

Download pdf file:  An open letter to the Vic Gov 20 Feb 2014
Dear Premier and Ministers,

The following submission was made to the Ministers’ of Mental Health and Housing, with copies to all coalition MP’s, who represent the Gippsland region.

We are told that despite the government’s announced Budget surplus, there are insufficient funds available to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We find this state of affairs intolerable and call upon you all to seriously reconsider your funding priorities when both crafting the state Budget and the government’s pre-election commitments.
Extract from the submission:
As you are aware from our advocacy on behalf of people with a mental illness over many years now, there is a desperate shortage of accommodation in the Gippsland region appropriate for the needs of people with life-long (chronic) mental illness. In this regard, we refer specifically to accommodation which:
 Is affordable for people on a Disability Support Pension
 Is Secure and long-term in tenure
 Provides the tenants with daily out-reach support programs
 Ensures continued easy access to clinical supports commensurate to the tenants mental health needs
We firmly believe that with deinstitutionalisation and the abandonment of mental hospitals, this model of accommodation really is the only way many of our citizens with life-long illnesses, such as schizophrenia, can adjust to normal lives within their communities. Experience since deinstitutionalisation has clearly demonstrated that in the absence of such supports, mental health recovery is impeded and far too many sufferers return to acute care in psychiatric wards – the “revolving door” syndrome.
This current system, which perpetuates such a “revolving door” approach to chronic mental illness, not only fails to address the basic patient care rights of our mentally ill, it also imposes a greater cost burden on the government purse resulting from too frequent presentations to acute care wards and other costs/expenses met by the community. It costs around $800 per day for acute care presentations and when you add to this the cost of unpaid rent for Ministry of Housing or private sector accommodation and a host of other expenses, met by communities in providing emergency assistance, it amounts to a considerable cost burden on the public purse.
Indeed. the burden on the public purse for not addressing the special housing needs of the mentally ill and the overall magnitude of the problem assumes its true importance when viewed in the context of what other alternative accommodation choices are either available or are forced upon some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
These alternatives include, couch-surfing with families or friends, caravans, boarding houses, nursing homes and worst of all, incarceration in prisons.

The facts are:
 Up to 85% of all homeless people present with a mental illness.
 The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that almost one third of prisoners entering jail already have a mental illness (a rate 2.5 times higher than the general population).
 Up to 93% of Aboriginal detainees have some form of mental illness.
 Rates of major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression are three to five times higher among prisoners than those in the general population.
While some people could justly claim that even the former mental institutions are preferable to incarceration in prison, we believe that every possible effort should be made to ensure that people with chronic mental illnesses are supported so they do not encounter our criminal justice system and can live normally in their communities. Moreover, the cost burden borne by the public purse for incarceration in prison is much, much more than that for the provision of the supported accommodation model we propose. Council of Australian Government figures show that average real net operating expenditure per prisoner per day (2009-2010) was $240.66, or close to $90,000 per year.
With respect to the incredibly high percentage of homeless people with a mental illness, we know from our advocacy work that many, many chronically ill people, who live in inappropriate accommodation, such as couch-surfing, caravans and boarding houses do not receive any outreach support at all and the periods of their unwellness are more frequent than would otherwise be the case.
The relationship between mental illness, homelessness and suicide is also of great concern. A recent study undertaken in Canada of a sample of 330 homeless adults revealed that 61% reported suicidal ideation and 34% had attempted suicide. In Australia, suicide is a prominent health concern. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the average number of suicide per year is 2,320. Moreover, it reports that for those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander decent, the suicide rate is 2.5 times higher for males and 3.4 times higher for females.
While actual suicide rates are notoriously difficult to ascertain, e.g. single occupant vehicle fatalities, we know that for Gippsland, the anecdotal evidence suggests that this region has the dubious reputation of having one of the highest suicide rates in the state. There would be no doubt that homelessness, mental illness and an absence of adequate support services would be contributing factors.
We can and should do much better than this. It is for these reasons, we strongly argue for the especially dedicated supported accommodation model mentioned above.
You will recall that we first raised this matter of supported accommodation at a meeting in Parliament House with government MP’s in March 2011.
We are indeed grateful for your support, which in turn, resulted in the government’s support for a project to construct special units of supported accommodation in Hyde Park Road Traralgon.
In the period since then we have also experienced tremendous community support for this project. This has been both an uplifting, but humbling experience as communities in every electorate across Gippsland have rallied to our public appeal for financial contributions to the project and demonstrated overwhelming public support for the model of accommodation being proposed.
There is no doubt in our minds that our communities in Gippsland have embraced this model of accommodation for the mentally ill and clearly prefer to see their loved-ones with a mental illness housed appropriately and supported, rather than neglected and left to fend for themselves.
We are therefore asking the state government to make provision in next year’s Budget for an allocation of funds to enable a roll-out of this supported accommodation model in at least ten (10) major towns throughout the Gippsland region. We estimate that the average cost for a 6-8 unit development is around $1 million, so we are asking for a budgetary provision of $10 million over 4 years.
This would be a meaningful regional pilot that could be progressively rolled-out across the state with funding from future Budgets.
Gippsland is a unique region for such a pilot program – its 250,000 inhabitants are spread-out of its 44,000 km in many relatively small communities, some less accessible than others and many of them disadvantaged by their remoteness from mainstream services. The closure of Hobson’s Park – the region’s former psychiatric hospital in Traralgon, did leave a tremendous vacuum in so far as the accommodation of people with long-term mental illness is concerned. A vacuum that has never been filled with normal social housing options, particularly when social housing is simply not available and even when it is, long waiting lists for social housing add to the disadvantage experienced by the mentally ill.
$10 million over four years is not a “big ask”. At $2.5 million per year, it is a small, small fraction of the running cost of the former Hobson Park hospital and less than 1% of the $300 million revised State Budget surplus, recently announced by the government. When you consider that it costs around $800 per day to fund a patient’s stay in acute psychiatric care and an average stay is around 5 days, our accommodation model will also save the government money by reducing the number of incidents of unwellness requiring acute care.
Can we count on your support for this proposal? In the sincere hope that we can, we ask whether you and your Gippsland Parliamentary colleagues will agree to meet a small deputation from our Board to discuss how best to further a Budget submission for the allocation we seek? We are prepared to meet with you all at Parliament House at a time, which is convenient to all of you. We look forward in anticipation of your positive response.
Yours sincerely,
Derek Amos
Hon. Chief Executive Officer.


Liked it? Take a second to support ceo on Patreon!
Share this...
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponPrint this pageEmail this to someone