As the details emerge about the background of Courtney Herron’s alleged killer, we need to take a serious look at the problem of homelessness and mental illness. Our approach to these problems has not been working.
Henry Hammond, a 27-year-old homeless man, appears to have had untreated mental illness and issues with substance abuse, including the drugs heroin, LSD and ice.
According to witnesses, he had a long history of bizarre behaviour.
He was failed by a system that did not assertively address these issues because of misguided priorities.
The real cause of homelessness — and of the tragic events in Royal Park — relate to a lawless homeless subculture in which mental illness and drug abuse are rife.
The rate of mental illness is up to 40% in homeless persons, and even higher in ‘rough sleepers’.
And as I point out in the CIS paper Dying with their Rights On: The Myths and Realities of Ending Homelessness in Australia, although the government already spends $10 billion a year on housing and homelessness, rates of rough sleeping are increasing.
Despite the 29% increase in funding (from $634.2 million to $817.4m) for homeless services alone between 2011 and 2016, the number of Australians sleeping rough increased by 20% across that time.
Approximately 8,000 Australians continue to sleep rough each night because homelessness services have not been assertive enough at getting people off the streets. Outreach workers are reluctant to violate the ‘right’ of people to sleep rough and refuse treatment.
Homelessness services have therefore proved unable to help because they refuse to take an effective approach to assisting people to exit the streets.
Hence, participation in mental health and drug counselling and treatment is largely optional. This means the people who most need help to deal with their addictions and mental illnesses are the least likely to get it.
Long-term care facilities offering high levels of support would benefit the chronically homeless and gravely ill people — who will otherwise continue to live and die on the streets.
Drug and alcohol treatment must be made mandatory for homeless addicts, as must compulsory mental health assessments to ensure that appropriate treatment reaches those who need it.
This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in the Herald Sun’s Rendezview section.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price
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