Fears for mentally ill forced to streets

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 27/08/2014

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More mentally ill people will be living on the streets of Wellington as a funding shake-up forces the closure of support services, providers and health board staff have warned.

Eight mental health service providers will have their funding withdrawn as part of Capital & Coast District Health Board's overhaul of mental health, and most are expected to close their doors next month.

Most of them provide somewhere for mentally ill people to hang out during the day, and clients who spoke to The Dominion Post yesterday said it was likely they would probably return to the streets.

The DHB has argued that its new model will be less fragmented, with no reduction in overall funding, and will lead to better results for clients. But documents released under the Official Information Act show even its own mental health staff raised alarm bells about the cuts, warning that some clients would be left "wandering the streets".

"By cutting funding to these grassroot community-led organisations . . . we are damaging the community and long-term relationships that are currently supporting many of our most vulnerable clients," one letter said.

It is understood the DHB has acknowledged up to 150 mental health clients would no longer receive the same support, and talks are under way with social agencies that deal with homelessness and severe deprivation about an expected surge in demand.

The Club House, in Newtown, is one of the drop-in centres that will close next month. Yesterday, it was busy with clients, many of whom told The Dominion Post they had been going there regularly for decades.

Aaron Collins, who said he had schizophrenia and depression, has been in and out of Wellington Hospital's mental health ward but spends nearly every day he can at the Club House, playing darts, chess and watching films.

Once the house closed, he expected he would spend more time just wandering Cuba St. "They push us out of society and we have nowhere else to go. Here we have camaraderie."

Another regular, Wayne Couchman, has been living in a car for the past year and said he has been on the waiting list for social housing since April. "Without this place we are all stuffed really," he said. "I don't know what I'll do, just sit in my car."

Wellington Community Law lawyer Nicola Drayton-Glesti, who represents some of the regulars at the Club House, said the DHB's new approach could help some mental health patients but was not working for the most needy.

"The consequence is going to be more people on the street, more people begging and more people with nowhere else to go."

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Richard Noble, who chairs Aspire, the charity that runs the Club House and Courtney's drop-in centres, said while he had accepted his service would close he still had serious concerns about the welfare of his clients. "They need something to do, somewhere to go."

But CCDHB's service integration group manager Sandra Williams said many of the people that used the Club House and other drop-in centres were not mental health clients. The new model was not just about "well-intended" help but would actually assist people to recover their independence.

Wellington social services, such as DCM and the Wellington City Mission, were being provided with extra resources for the next six months for people expected to move from the Club House and other social services, she said.

"Services are centred on the needs of the person and are individually goal-focused. These changes will result in better outcomes for the people that need and use them."

- The Dominion Post

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