Monday, January 29, 2007

Free-range psychiatric hospitals (continued)

DH is all for free-range everything, and if her mental condition ever got any worse than it obviously is, (why would any normal person want to put it all out there in a blog after all?), she would rather be pecking about in her own backyard than inside the forbidding sandstone of a refurbished Callan Park, say.


DH has been attending tenants meetings in her area lately, and the issue that keep cropping up over and over again is the difficult question of housing for people with mental illnesses.

In her experience, there are 3 groups that stand out in public housing

  1. Old people
  2. Sole parents
  3. Troubled people, including drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, mentally ill, sole parents whose husbands are in jail.
It seems to DH, no doubt partisanly, that it is the single parents who are the strengths of their communities, trying to hold things together, working as unpaid social workers, trying to build better communities for their children to grow up in, and often cracking under the strain. They recognise that they are in disadvantaged housing, and that troubled populations must be housed somewhere.

They are not Nimbies, but what is a fair thing? They are not more morally culpable than the Wybies. The "Welcome in Your Backyard" set, which could more accurately be described as Wimbies (Welcome in My Backyard, Except Fortunately, they'll Never be able To Afford to Live There Anyway")

Deinstitutionalisation was meant to be followed up with funding for community support. Instead public housing has become a dumping ground for mental illness. DH heard the story of one old man with a heart condition who was in tears because he is kept awake at night by the thumping and ranting of mentally ill neighbours through the thin walls of his poorly insulated flat. THis is not right. There are rumours of something called HASI, but where are they and how long will they take to get here?

In one area that DH knows about, the department, in its wisdom, has single unit dwellings down one side, and family dwellings on the other. Thus children going home from school must run the gauntlet of the lone and troubled males on the other side of the path. DH can't help thinking that these two populations should be separated.

But if we do that, doesnt it mean that some areas of public housing will become free-range bedlams? Proponents of deinstitutionalisation argue that supporting people in the community is no more expensive than doing so in a hospital. But if all the mentally ill people are hived off into separate areas, wont these be defacto mental hospitals without infrastructure anyway?

All DH knows is that she and the other "reasonably-together" women she knows would like to get out, which is another way in which public housing precincts will further disintegrate. Yesterday she comforted a woman who was weeping in despair because she could see no way out, no hope of escape from an area in which drunks rant all night, in which a man she described as a "pervert" was rehoused right opposite her, in which her children are ashamed to live, and where they can't play outside. But with rent set at 30% as soon as she hits abt $800 before tax, with the loss of transport concessions and prescription subsidies, and the cost of child care for her two primary aged children, and with 25% of the maintenance she receives from her husband taxed and garnisheed by the department, she doesnt have a hope in hell.

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