Ruben is a vulnerable man who suffers from behavioural and mental health issues, and who has struggled with homelessness for over 20 years. This exacerbated his mental health issues which, according to his doctor, were partly a result of violence during his childhood. He also suffers from physical disabilities which have hampered his ability to work.
Ruben commenced living in an Office of Housing property in December 2013, and had frequent issues with his neighbours, including both being the target of and initiator of verbal and physical abuse. As a result of this, Ruben was subject to breach of duty notices issued by the Office of Housing, and a compliance order issued by VCAT.
Ruben’s case worker approached the Justice Connect Homeless Law lawyer at Launch Housing, where the lawyer was co-located. The case worker asked if Justice Connect could assist Ruben. The lawyer quickly booked Ruben in for an appointment that week. At the time that Justice Connect got involved, the Office of Housing had issued Ruben with a notice to vacate, and had sought a possession order.
The Homeless Law lawyers entered into negotiations with the Office of Housing to seek a withdrawal of the possession order application, and requested that they consider Ruben’s rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) on the basis that Ruben would again be made homeless if he was evicted.
During the lengthy negotiations, the lawyers relied on medical records from multiple doctors highlighting the mental and physical health issues that affect Ruben’s tenancy, the inconsistencies in relation to some of the allegations, and the concerns that homelessness would severely affect Ruben’s ability to control and stabilise his ongoing health conditions.
These negotiations also involved Ruben’s social worker, who was heavily involved in this matter, and discussions with his doctor, to ensure that Ruben had a plan to stay on a treatment plan and follow his doctor’s instructions.
With the assistance of Ruben’s caseworker from Launch Housing and doctors, the lawyers’ negotiations were ultimately successful, and the Office of Housing adjourned and subsequently withdrew the application for a possession order.
Ruben now remains at his Office of Housing property, and regularly sees his doctor and social worker, who are helping him with stabilising his medical issues.
Ruben’s story provides an insight into the benefits of embedded partnerships in improving access to legal services and generating better outcomes for highly marginalised members of the community.
Heather Holst, Deputy CEO at Launch Housing, summarised these benefits: