HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.46 pm]: It has been a tough week. It has been a really tough week, as I think all of us have been inundated with concerns and requests to try to get more information and to try to have particular issues addressed in the response to the current pandemic. I want to acknowledge that there is an awful lot of work happening, and that all of us, I think, are feeling a huge amount of distress and anxiety about what will happen in the immediate future as the pandemic unfolds. But I rise tonight because I want to talk about some constituents I am assisting whom I have spoken about before in this chamber, but whom I am particularly concerned about in light of what is happening with the pandemic. These people have mental health issues. They are in public housing and right now are still undergoing processes of eviction by this government. I am calling on this government to halt all those proceedings now, not least because people are talking about the need to halt evictions for people in the private sector. We are talking about the need to halt evictions for a number of people and how concerned we are about what will happen to people as income streams completely dry up, yet these people are going through these court processes and being evicted right now. I am familiar with these cases and I feel 100 per cent confident that I can stand here, hand on heart, and say that I do not believe that all has been done to assist these people to appropriately stay within their homes.

Tenant advocacy services have reported an increase in cases of tenants facing breaches and eviction proceedings due to property standard and inspection issues. This is happening at the same time as we have seen an overall decline in the funding available to community legal centres to assist these very same vulnerable tenants. We know that action taken to evict tenants who have mental illness into homelessness is extraordinarily counterproductive. The stress of facing homelessness is exacerbating the very underlying illness that makes it difficult for them to achieve their tenancy obligations in the first place.

I particularly want to talk about the lack of appropriate supports for tenants who have hoarding disorders. Hoarding disorders are a particularly difficult mental illness to treat, but they are treatable; they are complicated to address and they require specialised services and time. We are finding that tenants are becoming particularly susceptible to being given breach notices if they have hoarding disorders because, obviously, they are failing to keep their property reasonably clean or because they are causing subsequent nuisance to their neighbours. I have said it before in this place and I will say it again: I understand the concerns raised, particularly by people who live next to someone who has a hoarding disorder. It is a highly problematic set of circumstances to live next to. I would not want to live next door to a tenant who has a hoarding disorder. The one thing I do know is that the people I am assisting who have a hoarding disorder are desperate to have their underlying issues addressed. They recognise that they have a problem and recognise that they have to do something about it, but have had no success in getting referral to the sorts of services they require to address what is a mental illness.

We can get as cross as we like with people who have a hoarding disorder. We may as well yell at someone who has an eating disorder. The reality is that these are mental illnesses and people need to be supported. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, says that a substantial proportion of individuals with severe hoarding disorder have been involved in legal eviction proceedings. It is a really common response to people who do not know how to address the issue of hoarding disorder. Of course, it is difficult if a tenant fails to recognise they have an illness. Often agencies do not become involved until, unfortunately, it has reached absolute crisis point and the clock is ticking so, effectively, someone is about to be turfed out. That makes it really difficult to find the time to address the underlying problem. As I said, in addition to all this, people may need specialist services and support to clean the property. That is often very much outside the financial means of these public housing tenants. Sometimes we are talking about thousands of dollars. We also know that hoarding disorder commonly co-occurs with other serious physical and mental health conditions. It is very rare that it happens simply on its own. Tenant advocates also report to me that in a significant number of cases, intellectual disability is also proving to be a compounding or complicating factor. We are talking about people who often have very serious physical issues, a series of mental health issues and possibly disability. We are evicting these people into homelessness.

I asked some questions particularly about the Thrive program. I am aware that one of the tenants I am trying to keep in his home at the moment has been desperately trying to get through to Thrive but has been unable to get the supports to get through to Thrive. That has been his actual experience. However, we know that public housing tenants are meant to be referred to the Thrive program by the Department of Communities staff through government and non-government agencies as well as self-referral. Since 10 October last year—this is as at 20 February this year—851 tenants have been nominated for the Thrive program; 367 tenants are participating, 418 tenants are at the referral and consent stage and 66 referrals did not even progress. That is a lot of unmet need from people who have been identified as needing assistance. We do not know if the Thrive program in its current form is even working because the minister was unable to advise how many people had completed the program or how many had had their tenancy terminated despite being on the program. I note also that Thrive will not be evaluated until after October 2022. That is when the department will look at engaging a consultant. I asked the minister also how many people evicted are disability support pensioners or how many have hoarding disorder. The answer I got was that it is not reported on. That was not the question I asked. I did not ask how many were reported on. I asked what the figures were. One of two things is happening. Either the minister does not know and that critical data is not being kept, and I think that is grossly irresponsible, or the minister just does not want to release that data. I can understand why that is the case because it is effectively admitting that people with a disability and serious mental illness are being thrown out into homelessness.

I am going to ask the Minister for Housing once again to please, please, please reconsider those matters that are currently before him. I will continue to advocate for these individuals who are about to be evicted into homelessness, who have serious mental health issues, who want support, who are desperately trying to address their underlying concerns and who have been struggling to do that. We are in the middle of a pandemic. We have already been advised today that there are concerns about how homelessness services are going to respond and cope. The last thing in the world that we should be doing is adding to that problem. This is a time when we all need to be doing everything possible to facilitate keeping people in their home so that they can remain safe. Now is the time to all work together.

I am not going to drop this issue until I finally get the report back from advocates and hear from people contacting my office that all these sorts of actions have ceased. I am very concerned and I really hope that we can see some positive progress on this in the next week.


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