Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How come there are so many mentally "ill" anyway?

We know that "Reshaping Public Housing" will turn public housing estates into dumping grounds for people with mental "illness". Honestly, has DH gone mad? Did the last 40 years of Western history never happen? What happened to the insights of the 60's, of the socialists, the feminists, the sociologists and anthropologists, the social constructions and the post-modernists? When did we revert to a medical discourse and start using the old discredited term "mental illness" as if it was all there was to know about human grief, despair and struggle? What happened to the basic tenet of Sociology 101: private troubles are public and political issues etched into the the individual body?

DH has long wondered whether in fact the incidence of mental "illness" is increasing. While some mental illness is undoubtedly genetic in origirn, or has organic causes, how much of it is socially constructed? What if many of the depressive and anxiety disorders are actually a byproduct of the speeding up of time, the lengthening of work hours, insecurity about being able to make a consistent living in the global economy, of time poor families who can't get together because of 24/7 work regimes? How many addictions are attempts at self-medication, or a panacea for the meaninglessness of consumerist life?

New evidence as reported in the 7.30 Report yesterday suggests her hypothesis might have been right.

  • The once mighty bronzed laconic Oz are now the hardest working nation on EARTH! More than the JAPANESE for Christ's sake (the Christ of the Proddie Work Ethic anyway). More than the Yanks, more than the Germans! You know you don't vant it, pussycats.
  • In 1963, 65% of the mighty Oz worked a 5 day, 9-5 hour week. Now its only 8%
A research project at ANU's College of Medicine and Health Sciences have been studying the impact of workplace changes on a sample of 2,250 ACT workers, half public servants, half not.

The study shows strong associations between long hours/ high job insecurity and depression, anxiety and visits to the GP.

A spokesperson for the project said that this level of job demands and long working hours is not going to be sustainable in the future. It's going to have an effect on people's mental and physical health, it's going to be a burden on the health care system. That in itself is going to be a large cost for the nation



You want workers to be cheap? You want 24 hour service? You want public services to be reduced?

You're already paying through the nose for public services like public housing (aka free range mental hospitals), more police to contain drug addiction, crime and other acts of desperation, not to mention the PBS cost to the nation of anti-depressants is going through the roof.
You, silly, silly, SILLY people!

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.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Great work, Iemma! $66 mil to upgrade public housing

Well done, NSW Labor.

$66 million to upgrade public housing, and DH is especially pleased to see some of it earmarked for community centres within estates.

While DH does not understand what 66 mil means in practical terms, and she hopes that the 66 by 10 to the 6th will not usher in the era of the Anti-Christ (surely it cant be our Morris???) , she follows the lead of NCOSS and Shelter in praising the govt to the skies. Their press release is reproduced below, just to show that DH doesnt just whinge all the time, but gives credit where due. You may need to adjust your vision to read it...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Media release (joint)

The Council of Social Service of NSW (NCOSS) and Shelter NSW have welcomed the Premier’s announcement of $66 million for community renewal in some of New South Wales’ poorest public housing estates.

“Investment of this kind is long overdue” said NCOSS Acting Director, Ms Michelle Burrell. “Public tenants deserve to live in decent housing, with proper community facilities and safe public spaces. This new investment should deliver on these basic standards.”

“The emphasis on involving tenants in decisions affecting their estate is particularly welcome,” added Ms Burrell. ” Experience shows that top down approaches to community renewal just don’t work.”

“In addition, commitments of this kind need to be made for the long term,” added Ms Mary Perkins, Executive Officer, Shelter NSW.

“What works is local and long term. This is especially so in the light of the rationing of public housing to very, very needy people who don’t have a lot of private resources,” added Ms Perkins.

“Specific resources for employment support are also very welcome,” said Ms Burrell.

“A real job, with proper wages, is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Helping public tenants into local employment will help to lift community aspirations, and get a good social mix to ensure the financial sustainability of public housing,” she added.

NCOSS and Shelter NSW would like to see this new approach to community renewal extended to other neighbourhoods where there is entrenched poverty.

Whilst concentrating on public housing estates is a logical first step, solid investment in community infrastructure, human services and employment support in other poverty postcodes must be a priority in the future.

Erratum:guessing competition

Apologies: have pulled an entry on statistics about the waiting lists vs actual occupancy. DH shd have checked her facts first as the figures were pretty bolshie - it was the sensationalism of them that attracted her, which shd have been the clue. Blame the AAP and also for their over-enthusiastic reporting by someone with little understanding of the difference betw public and community housing perhaps

Friday, January 19, 2007

Aux armes, housoiens! Ditch the Labor Party?

[Reproducing in full a comment from "Raseac" on "Renthoppers" as it raises an important issue in impassioned language, (followed by DH's pitiful apologetics).
From Raseac:
I don't understand I'm afraid. Why would the Rent-Hoppers settle on the Howard govt? Are they profoundly stupid know, STUPID much as Labor-obsessed public housing tenants are stupid because they do it tough due to the uninspired management of Labor state governments EVERYWHERE, yet still call the Coalition out to pay the price? You know, that stubbornly, ideologically and politically blind kinda STUPID, that sees them habitually letting Labor govts off the hook just because of some ancient rumour suggesting that Labor is "for the people". It's a very special, all-pervading, all consuming blind kinda STUPID that results in Hoppers slapping year in year out into the same metaphysical windshields their forefathers slammed into.
Come on, folks! The Howard Govt says housing is the States' responsibility. The States say it's the Howard govt's responsibility. There's the difference? At least the Howard govt doesn't pretend to care. I say that makes it more honourable than Labor, which claims to care, yet sits idly by doing sweet FA.....unless it's Bulldozer related. It's not the Howard govt with its keys in the ignition of Policy D9. It's not the Howard govt that has lied to tenant in Minto and Bonnyrigg and, given time, St Mary's too no doubt. It's not the Howard govt that makes cynical promises to the Labor party faithful, knowing full well that in 10 years, when redevelopment is complete, few are likely to remember the promises of their god-almighty Labor party saviours. It's not the Howard govt that pulls down 4 bedroom homes and replaces them with two-bedroom stock, which will ultimately be placed under the management of some multinational for the next 30 years. I'm caused to remember the words of T.E Lawrence (yes, of Arabia) who said, "for so long as the Arab people fight among themselves, they will be a little people....a silly people!" I say, for as long as tenants nip at the heels of the Howard govt because that's what their Labor roots have conditioned them to do, tenants will be a little people...a silly people....ultimately, a homeless people! And Labor will be glad of the indemnity their silliness has afforded it!!"
From DH:
DH takes Raseac's eloquent point and has amended the offending blog entry with big red letters. She wasn't really thinking of public housing in this context, but about the plight of private renters. In 2004-5 the federal govt spent $2.1 billion on Rent Assistance, compared to $1.3 for the provision of public housing. In the 10 years since the Federal Govt took office, their subsidies to public housing have declined by just over 1/2. And all this transfer of taxpayers' wealth to private landlords has failed to achieve affordability.
Disclosure: DH is a member of the ALP. She joined a couple of years ago, not because she is a true believer, but because she was shocked to discover that what is after all our nation's major political party has virtually no members, and seems ripe for being white-anted by white-shoe brigadeers.  Coming from a leftist background in her youth, she has gone over, like about a zillion times, all the arguments about working from inside the system vs outside the system, about being co-opted versus having influence. As far as she is concerned her membership is experimental. She wants to see what can be achieved inside the system. For the moment, she is sitting tight, and supporting her local candidate who is from the left of the party, despite the excruciating embarassment of first Joe Tripodi's very existence in the party, and now Cherie Burton's high-handed dealings DH believes all housos should join a party and begin to educate themselves and their chosen party about their issues. Shelter is of course the key human need after food and water, and governments need to be reminded that this is their key responsibility

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A boost for nomadism and squatting

DH has been reading Robin Davidson's Quarterly Essay in which she laments the relentless squeezing to death of the independant spirit of nomadism. She need not worry, current housing policy at both Federal and State levels could well reverse this trend. And check out this great site and their handbook on squatting.
No joke, everywhere we look, we see populations on the move, nomads without traditional wisdom to prevent overgrazing, whether its the rich flitting disconnected from resort to resort, or rent-hoppers, or refugees. Overpopulation and greed, or Malthusian inevitability, call it what you will. Populations will just keep on expanding until the inevitable catastrophic crashes. Bleak thoughts this morning.  

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Super" flap to cause houso overheating?

You know how a butterfly flapping its wings in Haiti can cause a hurricane in Cairns? Looks like Peter "Tinkerbell" Costello has been flapping his super wings, and its going to cause havoc for us housos.

Excuse DH for being so parochial and self-centred in the midst of a national crisis, but it looks like she and her neighbours will never get D'OH to install a heat extractor fan in their ceilings now, let alone awnings, and ceiling fans (see previous entry) .

What with superannuation now looking like a better investment than rental properties, and landlords being better off selling off or raising rents*, the pressure on public housing can only increase.

Bigger waiting lists, of course, but can we also expect more "divide and rule" tactics from state and federal goverments who will find it expedient to deflect public scrutiny by sooling the lower classes against each other to fight it out for the remaining low-cost housing stock? Nothing like a bit of creative scapegoating for solving shortage of all kinds.

Already DH is noticing a decided chill in the air even amongst her leftie private-renter mates. Worried sick about their own housing prospects, they are not apt to sympathise with the plight of those who aren't, they imagine, doing it as hard as they are.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Heat exhaustion

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, in a glasshouse facing west, with no insulation in the roof, windows that open outwards to block crossbreezes that might cool the house down overnight. No air circulation. Thank God for global warming that has so far this season brought us bipolar weather, with more cold days than hot. Looking out of her window at a glorious summer morning, DH is very afraid. She doesnt know if she can bear another summer like last year. In the morning her child's brain fries in the corridor facing east that is her bedroom. From noon onwards, DH's bedroom temperature even with the blinds shut is at least 40 degrees. Like most of the people in her block, she sleeps either on the sofa downstairs or with the noisy fan on her full blast, and the spray bottle handy.

With the rental crisis in this state, DH feels reluctant to complain about such a small thing as Architectural Crimes Against Humanity. But then complaint is DH's brief, so what the hey.

Watch this space, because DH has in mind a new initiative to put the issue of design back on the agenda of affordable housing.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

To blog or not to blog

To blog, or not to blog: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to concentrate all efforts on getting paid work
Else suffer the slings and arrows of Howard's outraged rightwingers and resentful taxpayers

DH is pondering whether to let John Howard and now even Kevin "Et tu" Ruddus have their way with her at last. The idea being that the only arbiter of moral worth in this age is the possession of paid work. Everyone must be out there, sick or well, manufacturing communion wafers or generating reams of paper, or something. From the viewpoint of a truly just god, not the Time-Keeper God of the Protestant Work Ethic, DH is trying to work out whether morally, she is of more value to society as a blogger, a carer, a volunteer and a community facilitator, than as whatever square hole Job Network manages to stuff her into. DH believes that she more than earns that $280 a fortnight she has left after rent in terms of real social value. But perhaps she is deluded. Perhaps she would be better off in some regular group enterprise.

Scene from a Workhouse

Talking about communion wafers, DH once visited X Industries, a huge factory run by a Church which shall remain nameless, providing work to people with intellectual disabilities, pressing out communion wafers being the chief of them.

At the time that Howard and co were preparing their new welfare to work schema for disabled people, and this workplace was considered to be a exemplar of the foreshadowed changes. DH was at that time working for a government department instrumental in this process and was there to interview the factory supervisor on their methods.

For the length of the interview, a young man with Down's Syndrome, sitting alone at a worktable, was wailing loudly and piteously, while being completely ignored. As DH and the supervisor left, the supervisor called out harshly to the young man, words to the effect of "Oh, stop your wailing and get on with it". Seeing DH's look she said something like, "Oh, pay no attention, he's always like that, there;s nothing wrong with him, he's just an attention seeker".

This scene has always been engraved on DH's conscience, as a metaphor for the unknowable consequences of welfare to work.

DH is right into political correctness, but not beyond reason and her own intuition. As the parent of a disabled child with strong links in the disability community, she knows that some disabled people come to us straight from hell. There is not always a good, normal person trapped in an unwieldy body, desperate to emerge, but being prevented from it by a lack of government funding. Such people can only be managed. For all DH knows, that young man was stuck in some kind of neurochemical hell, and there was actually nothing more that the workplace could have done. But all she knows is, if that was her child, she wouldnt have wanted him there for a moment to be left to wail alone. It was not an attractive place. Who knows what goes through the mind of someone with an intellectual disability, stamping out communion wafers day after day, week after week? Is it any worse, in kind, from being able-bodied and a checkout operator, or process worker? Who knows.

Just a thought.