Politics Sector News — 08 September 2015

Canberra may soon see new supported accommodation for people with a mental illness at risk of homelessness, but construction will need over five million dollars in government funding.

The model will be based on community initiative HOME in Queanbeyan, which resident Geoff Bagnall said was unique in tailoring to the needs of people with mental illness who have varied capacities of independent living.

Mr. Bagnall, a former reporter, suffers from severe depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety and believes his struggle with mental illness dates back to his teenage years. He spent time in halfway houses before finding HOME, where staff provides 24 hour support to around 20 residents living in individual units.

“It’s important that we live independently with support if we need, because we don’t feel institutionalised. Some of us can work, others can’t, but we can live as freely as we are able to live,” Mr Bagnall said.

“You can be here as long as you need, and that’s why it’s called HOME, because it is our home… and that’s important for recovery because you feel safe and secure.”

In neighbouring ACT, around 8000 people have a severe mental disorder, according to the Australian Bureau of statistics. The region had nearly 2000 homeless people on a single night in 2011, 85 per cent of which have at least one mental illness. These figures reportedly give the territory the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia.

“MyHome in Canberra will be a two-story facility comprising of around about 22 individual housing units as well as other accommodation support functions, including assistance in cooking, cleaning, budgeting, shopping and gardening,” John Tucker, president of the proposed MyHome in Canberra, explained.

“We are seeking funding from the ACT and federal governments to build our facility and at this stage we are looking at building it on the uniting church in curtain. We hope it will be ready by 2016.”

Each unit would have an ensuite, kitchen and living room, and will cost a proportion of the resident’s income.

Mr. Bagnall said he’s “immensely pleased” HOME in Queanbeyan has been a template for Canberra’s MyHome, but said the need for more supported accommodation is national.

“The success of these projects shouldn’t be left to chance. All the right words are being spoken by government, but words are cheap,” Mr. Bagnall explained.

“I was lucky to find HOME, but a lot of people with mental illness fall through the gaps… because it’s not a part of the mental health budget.”

The board will work closely with mental health consumers and Carers ACT for the model of care, but Mr Tucker said its ongoing success will depend on community donations and volunteers.

This article first appeared on ‘Canberra Times’ on 28 August 2015.

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