HON PIERRE YANG (South Metropolitan) [11.40 am] — without notice: I move —

That this house notes with concern the plight of homeless people in Western Australia and supports the efforts being made by the government and non-government sectors to address homelessness in Western Australia.

[speeches and comments of various members]

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [ 12.02 pm ]: I rise to speak to this motion, specifically the intersection between homelessness and mental health, alcohol and other drug issues. I was fortunate to attend only a few weeks ago a sector forum hosted by Shelter WA that looked at the important intersection between the issues of mental health and homelessness specifically. The relationship between appropriate housing, good health, wellbeing and quality of life is well established, and housing is acknowledged as one of the key social determinants required to ensure ongoing good mental health. Many individuals and groups face multiple barriers to access housing that meets their needs and is appropriate and sustainable in its affordability, accessibility, safety and security. People with particularly serious mental health issues are one of these groups. It is essential that any discussion about homelessness also looks at the issue of mental health. Homelessness is a risk factor for mental health and wellbeing issues; conversely, mental illness puts people at risk of becoming homeless. Research has demonstrated that between 48 and 82 per cent of homeless young people have a diagnosable mental illness. Between one-quarter and one-half of homeless adults are estimated to have severe and chronic mental illness. A lack of employment opportunities and limited housing options, as well as the stigma and discrimination associated with having a particularly serious mental illness, may contribute to the risk of homelessness and it is also a consequence of being homeless.

People who experience mental illness often encounter economic disadvantages and discrimination in their attempts to access private rental housing. As noted in the 10-year mental health services plan, it is estimated that by 2025 between 1 474 and 1 867 Western Australians who have mental health issues or alcohol and other drug problems will be homeless. That is a huge number of Western Australians and it highlights the extent of the problem. To address this problem, it is important that people who have mental health issues have access to housing that is appropriate for their situation, and we must ensure that they have the appropriate support services around them to meet their individual needs. Again, as noted in the 10-year services plan, improving access to safe housing and the associated community sup port will help prevent specialised mental health treatment and the short to medium term accommodation system becoming congested with people who want and are able to live independently in the community. That is a problem that we are seeing right now and, frankly, it is costing us a lot of money.

We know that other population cohorts face high risks of homelessness. That includes people who live with disability and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people. Recent research projects have suggested that LGBTIQ people are significantly overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness. This is particularly a concern for young people who, upon coming out, are far too often kicked out of home by their parents. I will never quite understand that; that is not something that I would ever contemplate as a parent. LGBTIQ people often face higher levels of violence, discrimination and harassment within the community and, unfortunately, they may experience those things from potential housemates and homeless service providers. Family conflict has also been found to be a specific influence on rates of homelessness within this population group. It is important that government policies and programs recognise LGBTIQ people as a vulnerable population cohort that requires quite specialised and specific supports. As I mentioned, people with disability also experience a higher prevalence of homelessness. People with disability often have low incomes and they may have limited engagement with the labour market and limited housing options. There is an ongoing lack of houses that are accessible and adaptable to house people with physical disabilities, so improving the supply of affordable housing that is accessible and, importantly, that conforms to the principles of universal housing design would be a significant positive step towards reducing rates of poverty and providing increased opportunities for the economic and social inclusion of people who live with disability.

I also note the connection between justice, our prison system and homelessness. The recidivism rate for people who are released from prison into homelessness is twice that of those who can go to housing when they are released from prison. There are significant gaps in this area, and the community misses out as well as those people themselves. Too many people are detained in our prisons and detention centres on remand, including a lot of young people, because they do not have access to appropriate accommodation. That is a false economy. We need to look at how we can divert those funds to ensure that that is not the case. Again, it is the community that bears the costs.

The benefits of access to secure, safe and affordable housing are well understood and include a significant reduction in hospitalisation, which is a huge cost to the community; improved social and economic participation — encouraging people to get back into the employment market; reduced recidivism — the community wins; and reduced reliance on welfare support. By providing safe and secure housing we are not only providing people with the capacity to achieve better life outcomes, which in itself is something that we should aspire to, but also, through better life outcomes, significantly reducing the need for other expensive services, which delivers significant savings for government.

A recent study by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute at the University of Western Australia found that providing stable public housing for people experiencing homelessness could save the Western Australian health system more than $16 million a year. Imagine if we diverted just half of this amount into homelessness services. The research found that in the year following entry into a public housing tenancy, the proportion of previously homeless individuals accessing health services fell significantly. This included a significant reduction in the number of people presenting to emergency departments, intensive care units and psychiatric care, as well as the number of people staying overnight in hospital, having contact with mental health services and needing prescriptions for opioid dependence. This research provides a very compelling argument for investment in public housing for vulnerable people. The research indicates that early intervention, prevention and an integrated service approach is critical to break the cycle of homelessness. Preventing homelessness in the first place is more cost effective than attempting to address entrenched homelessness. We need to ensure that we have appropriate assessment tools to identify when issues such as domestic or family violence, or mental illness, or alcohol and other drug issues are impacting on an individual’s or a family’s capacity to sustain housing, and then we need to identify and intervene before the situation deteriorates to the point of eviction. Part of this means that we need to ensure that the silos are broken down and support is coordinated across relevant government departments such as the Mental Health Commission, the Disability Services Commission and the Department of Communities, specifically child protection. No-one should be discharged from our hospitals, prisons and youth detention centres or mental health, drug or alcohol-related treatment services, and nor should they leave care and become home less; that should never be allowed to happen. We need a whole-of-government approach to establish safe, affordable and stable accommodation that has an appropriate connection with community services that support people, particularly those with mental health or AOD issues, or who live with disability, so that we can ensure that people receive the wrap-around services they require to live safely and successfully in our community. A significant amount of work still remains to be done in this space.

[speeches and comments of various members]

Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.


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