Melbourne general practitioner Tim Wittick is “at a loss” for what he can do to help his patient Jane.
- A Melbourne GP is concerned about the growing number of homeless people suffering mental health issues
- He wants to see greater access to government housing and the broader rental market
- Homelessness is an increasing problem in Victoria
After fleeing family violence 18 months ago, Jane (not her real name) has been experiencing homelessness and her mental health has deteriorated.
“We can throw all the counselling and medication at her situation, but really it comes down to the fact that she needs a roof over her head,” Dr Wittick told ABC Radio Melbourne Drive.
“Access to safe and stable accommodation is a key social determinant of health.”
Despite having a job and a good rental history, Jane says she has unsuccessfully applied for hundreds of private rental properties on the Mornington Peninsula.
Often when she arrives for a house inspection she is competing against 30-40 people for the property.
“When you’ve got someone on paper that’s a single mum, it’s one income versus perhaps a couple,” she says.
“I can understand why I wouldn’t be the first pick there, but will I ever be the first pick?”
No help available
Jane says she and her GP have contacted several family violence and homelessness organisations asking for help, but they haven’t had anything available.
When she had a home Jane looked after her two children from a previous non-violent relationship one week on, one week off.
Now if she wants to see her kids she saves up to rent a hotel room and due to the cost she can’t do that as often as she would like.
She has been told if her children were living with her, she would likely get access to emergency accommodation and housing.
“It’s a Catch-22,” she says.
“But I don’t want to put my kids or their dad in that situation.”
Dr Wittick says Jane is one of many people who are “falling through the cracks” of the housing system and experiencing health issues because of it.
“Access to government housing that’s readily available and safe as well is key,” he says.
“But clearly there’s a big rental market out there and people need to be able to access it.”
Homelessness ‘a health crisis’
Cohealth chief executive Nicole Bartholomeusz says they see the impact homelessness has on people’s physical, mental and social health every day.
“When we don’t have the basics, like a secure home, and are constantly worrying about making ends meet, it puts a strain on our bodies and our minds,” she says.
“Studies show that people who are unhoused die up to 20 years earlier.
“Homelessness is a health crisis.”
The 2021 census suggests homelessness is an increasing problem in Victoria.
More than 30,000 Victorians were without a home on census night — nearly 6,000 more than in 2016.
Ms Bartholomeusz says an adequate supply of social and affordable housing, alongside wraparound support services, could transform people’s lives and reduce the need for expensive medical treatment.
“Countless people would be diverted from emergency departments and hospital waiting rooms if they had secure housing,” she says.
“People can stop worrying about where they’ll sleep tonight, and focus on raising their kids, finding work and engaging with education.”