By Charlie Levy, Launch Housing Case Manager Housing Mental Health Pathways Program
“At university, I initially studied psychology but soon realised I wanted to work with people in a more practical way. I feel that finding practical solutions to people’s concerns is a key aspect of social work practice; I enjoy that.
There’s an opportunity to sit with people, understand their circumstances and work to respond to what’s going on. I try to take a holistic view of people’s circumstances.
So, what’s a typical day like for me? I start my day with a coffee, read emails, and look at my client list to see if there are any crisis matters I need to respond to. I see what’s a priority and if I have any referrals from the hospital. I work exclusively with St Vincent’s Hospital.
If I need to go to hospital for a client referral, I’ll do that mid-afternoon and meet with the ward social workers, then the patient, to begin work on a housing plan for their discharge.
Some weeks I get daily requests for help. If not, it’s every second day that someone needs housing assistance when exiting hospital.
Usually, I arrange emergency accommodation for patient discharges. Where possible I work to reconnect patients with any pre-existing supports, for example, a case manager from another program or service to maximise a person’s chance of a successful transition.
I find a large part of my role is educating people within the mental health sector about what housing is available and not available. Where is a person going to stay when they leave hospital? For people experiencing homelessness, it’s difficult to find them a safe, stable place to stay when they exit hospital.
Working closely with social workers in hospitals to provide housing options is paramount. I am often forced to make difficult decisions, placing people in substandard motels and backpacker hostels until something more long term becomes available. This can take weeks, even months.
I find that many people leaving hospital want or, would benefit from a supported housing environment on discharge. However, there aren’t enough supported [housing] environments, particularly those that provide a good balance of freedom, independence and some help with living skills…a huge part of my role is advocating for people and coming up with a ‘best fit’ plan.
Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System
Having mental health and housing systems that are well resourced is crucial; there needs to be more housing options for people leaving hospital. At times vulnerable people need mental healthcare in less acute healthcare environments, i.e. supported housing.
Sometimes I wonder if we had a well-resourced healthcare system, homelessness may not even exist. There needs to be a radical shift in thinking.
Often, the right questions don’t get asked; you have people looking at a situation or issue from one perspective and not thinking about or talking to other services, so things get missed and people fall through the cracks. That’s a cliché but it’s the truth.
What do people need to recover? Stable housing is one part of the equation. We need the Royal Commission to look at the macro level and not just the micro level issues. The big picture is important and the voice of lived experience.
A safe base to recover
Safe and affordable accommodation gives people a base. The safety that comes from secure housing gives people the platform they need to think through challenges they are going through.
People who’ve been able to access safe, secure affordable housing quite soon after being acutely unwell, are then able to make steps towards their recovery that they might not have been able to previously. They are able to engage with their support systems and work on things that they might not have been able to for many, many years because they have been unwell.
I’ve recommitted to social work recently after some time reflecting on my practice and the challenges that exist in the systems we operate in. As a social worker I feel you have to look after yourself so you can stay present and do meaningful work. You have to remain hopeful, keep smiling and remember you do the best you can.”
With a Royal Commission into the mental health system currently underway, Launch Housing believes there must be a strong focus on improving how mental health and homelessness services work together. Without a stable, safe place to call home, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to recover from a mental illness. Learn more about the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.