Effect of mental health on income and housing – chicken or egg?

Tenants Victoria has responded to the call by the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System to make a submission on the interactions between homelessness, tenancy and mental health.

The Commission has asked interested parties to make their submissions by providing answers to a series of questions. Tenants Victoria has confined our submission to partial answers to three questions: What makes it hard for people to experience good mental health and what can be done to improve this? What are the drives behind some communities in Victoria experiencing poor mental health outcomes and what needs to be done to address this? And what are the opportunities in the Victorian community for people living with mental illness to improve their social and economic participation, and what needs to be done to realise these opportunities.

Tenants Victoria sees many people who are in rooming houses or poor quality accommodation suffering from mental health issues. It’s clear that the stress of homelessness or living in a rooming house is not conducive to positive mental health, and that homelessness can trigger mental illness or exacerbate it. Poverty and mental health are also intertwined, and anyone on low income has to fight hard to obtain adequate secure housing. So those with mental health issues are behind the 8 ball. In addition, Victorian spending on public housing is low, with recurrent spending well below the average of States and Territories. Capital investment is also too low to make a dent in the 80,000 long housing waiting list. Like many other groups, Tenants Victoria has called for the Victorian government to build 3000 new public housing dwellings annually for the next 10 years to bridge this infrastructure gap.

Navigating the rental system can be hard if you are well, but even more so with a mental illness. Tenants Victoria calls for more help at VCAT for tenants to enforce their rights and retain their homes. No one should be discharged from hospital or prison into homelessness, and investing in housing and supports can prevent this. Increasingly, government is using community housing as the stop gap to house vulnerable Victorians, but these tenants have fewer rights than public housing tenants. Strengthening controls on community housing providers so the Charter of Human Rights is applied will help. Reforming enforcement of rooming house standards, and assertive outreach to rooming house residents will provide an active safety net for mentally ill residents. Tenants Victoria has also recommended new appeal rights at VCAT, to help prevent unnecessary evictions.

The Royal Commission hearings are collecting firsthand accounts about how the mental health system affects those with mental illness, their carers, and health practitioners. We hope that the Commission will also take notice of the problems that Tenants Victoria sees and our recommendations to fix these problems.

You can read our full submission here.