Keeping Social Housing Tenants Housed: Disrupting the Cycle of Homelessness for Those with Mental Illness and Alcohol and Drug Disorders

Social Housing providers such as Access Housing are increasingly identifying the negative impacts that drug and alcohol addiction coinciding with mental illness can have on social inclusion outcomes for tenants themselves and social cohesion outcomes for the communities in which they are housed.

The majority of social housing tenants with a mental illness live alone in one and two bedroom units. This kind of accommodation is generally found in medium and high density complexes. Access Housing manages 374 complexes comprising 1,239 one and two bedroom units. This proportion of high density accommodation is replicated across much of the social housing sector. The impacts of antisocial behaviour of tenants and their visitors with comorbidity issues is amplified in medium and high density environments.

The primary relationship between Access Housing and its tenants is as a landlord, a relationship regulated by the WA Residential Tenancies Act and the Western Australian (WA) Housing Authority Community Housing Agreement. As a provider of social and affordable housing to around 3000 people in 2000 tenancies, the strict application of the WA Residential Tenancies Act is tempered by underlying principles of social inclusion, and attempts are made to maintain tenancies for vulnerable and disadvantaged people on low incomes wherever possible. Where risks to community and commercial viability cannot be mitigated by support arrangements, application is usually made to terminate a tenancy.

We know that people with comorbidity diagnoses of a drug and alcohol disorders coexisting with a mental health issue are overrepresented in the homelessness sector and can face significant challenges re-accessing accommodation without intensive support. The ‘First Evaluation Snapshot’ of the 50 Lives 50 Homes project in Perth identified that of the street homeless clients that they had housed using a ‘Housing First’ program delivery model, 97 per cent had a mental health problem and 98 per cent had a substance use problem. The Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC) in 2016 identified that 50 per cent of those with a mental health issue had an episode of homelessness compared with only one third of those clients without a mental illness.

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