Our open letter to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

10 Oct 2019

A joint letter from Victoria’s community sector.

Dear Commissioners Armytage, Cockram, Fels and McSherry,

The figures are stark. More than a quarter of people aged ten and over who used homelessness services in Victoria in 2017 – 18 also reported experiencing a mental health issue.

We, the undersigned, are writing to request a dedicated hearing into housing, homelessness and mental health as part of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, before the end of this calendar year. Urgent action on housing and homelessness will form an integral part of the Royal  Commission’s recommendations to address the challenges facing Victoria’s mental health system.

We are a diverse group of industry peak bodies, advocacy organisations and frontline service providers engaged with communities across Victoria. We work in housing, Aboriginal housing, homelessness, justice, health, mental health, disability, child and family services, family violence, education and more.

We are united by:

  • our commitment to the wellbeing of all Victorians, including those who experience tough times and who are most vulnerable to being disadvantaged
  • our desire to positively engage with the Royal Commission and assist it to deliver on its promise to Victorians
  • our strong belief that the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System – described as “a once in a generation opportunity to accelerate improvements in access to mental health services, service navigation and models of care”– will not be able to deliver on its promise unless Victoria’s critical shortage of affordable, safe, secure and stable housing is addressed.

We know that having a home provides the foundation for a healthy life, including mental well being.

Lived experience, insights from day-to-day work and an extensive body of academic research all affirm the key role that housing plays across the continuum of mental health prevention, early intervention, response and recovery:

  • Housing that is affordable, safe, secure and stable is “protective of health, including mental health”
  • Living in housing that is affordable, safe, secure and stable is a key enabler for mental health recovery
  • Provision of safe and supportive housing plays a key role in mental health response.

Together we call for urgent investment in housing as an essential part of the mental health support ecosystem.

We know what will work to break the link between mental ill-health and homelessness: housing. Housing that is safe and affordable, where people can build a home and get the support they need to address the underlying causes of poor mental health.

We call on you to deliver on these robust recommendations to stop the cycle of mental illhealth and homelessness. Specifically, that the Victorian Government:

  1. Invest in the creation of 3,500 extra public and community housing properties, plus 300 Aboriginal community housing properties each year to meet the needs of people who cannot access or afford housing in the open market, or who are forced to live in inadequate or unsafe marginal housing such as rooming houses or motels.
  2. Improve and lengthen post-release support options and invest in rapid rehousing in safe accommodation for people leaving institutional settings – in particular, people leaving mental health inpatient facilities, prison or youth detention – so that people don’t exit into homelessness.
  3. Scale up models that integrate housing and responsive mental healthcare and support across both private rental and social tenure. These models should use Housing First, step up/step down and multidisciplinary service-based approaches Prevent and reduce homelessness by improving measures to sustain housing and prevent unnecessary evictions, such as brokerage, legal representation and policy and law reform that ensures the protection of tenants’ legal and human right to quality housing.
  4. Establish an independent Implementation Monitor, for transparency on progress and outcomes of any Royal Commission housing investment and related measures.

We know that this historic Royal Commission will set out a clear plan of action to improve the system for people who need mental health support. This must include a plan to resolve the critical shortage of  table, suitable, secure and affordable housing in Victoria.

After decades of under-investment and neglect of housing’s role as critical social and economic infrastructure, there is an urgent need to increase public and community housing supply and improve accessibility to those homes for people with mental health needs. This need is particularly acute for Victoria’s Aboriginal people who are over represented in mental health services and who are experiencing the highest rate and fastest growth of homelessness in the nation.

The undersigned organisations commit to providing you with fulsome support to ensure the Royal Commission delivers on its promise.

Yours sincerely,

Logos of  CHP, VCOSS. Community Housing Industry Association Victoria, VPTA, FCLC, Justice Connect, Domestic Violence Victoria, Tenants Victoria, Aboriginal Housing Victoria