Ill homeless people worry health board

Last updated 05:00 18/10/2013

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A surge in homelessness in Christchurch among people with mental health issues has become an "extreme concern" to the city's health professionals.

Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) records show 146 mental health service users are either homeless, living in unsafe housing or waiting in services they no longer need - and the figure has been increasing for months.

Rough sleepers are becoming more visible around the city and members of the public have been seen "pointing and laughing at them" on main streets, CDHB member Elizabeth Cunningham said in a meeting yesterday.

"To actually see these [homeless] people in our city now is something we should all be concerned about. It's not on."

Fellow board member David Morrell said many of the homeless would not be on the streets if the housing shortage eased. Temporarily sleeping rough did major damage to the vulnerable.

"It gets into their bloodstream and becomes a way of life that you can't do anything about," he said.

CDHB specialist mental health services manager Toni Gutschlag told The Press the lack of housing for mental health service users was "extremely concerning".

"This is really worrying for us that people do not have access to basic necessities of life such as a suitable house," she said.

"We simply don't have enough affordable houses in our city."

The housing waiting list for mental health provider Comcare has steadily increased over the last few years and more than 100 people are now sitting on it, Comcare housing services manager Annette Sutherland said.

"The worrying thing is that people's circumstances are getting more urgent and more serious," she said.

Referrals to the service used to include people living with their parents or those coming to the end of rehabilitation or a period in hospital but now "just about everyone we get is about to lose their housing".

Sutherland said clients living in cars or overcrowding homes were becoming "much more common". She was aware of one client living in a leaky caravan with five other people.

A major part of the problem was that single beneficiaries could no longer afford one-bedroom flats in Christchurch's rental market.

Sutherland called for the Government to improve accommodation supplements to help ease the pressure.

City Missioner Michael Gorman said people with psychiatric disabilities had always been at risk but "it seems that because of the housing shortage they are even more visible now; and consequently even more at-risk".

About one person a day came knocking on the mission's door in the hope of finding help with housing, with about a quarter of those suffering some degree of mental illness.

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Lower socio-economic groups or people suffering mental health issues were not competitive in a pressured rental market and "we can't try to find homes for people when the homes don't exist", he said.

- Fairfax Media


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