People experiencing homelessness struggling to navigate the NDIS
16 October 2019 at 4:13 pm
The Victorian Homelessness Conference discussed the intersection between the NDIS, homelessness, and mental health
A different approach is needed to get more people experiencing homelessness into the National Disability Insurance Scheme, experts say.
During a session at the Victorian Homelessness Conference, panellists from across the social sector discussed how the NDIS was catering to people with disability who were homeless or at risk.
The panel particularly focused on the struggles people with psychosocial disability faced getting in the scheme.
Gerry Naughtin, who is a mental health advisor for the National Disability Insurance Agency, told attendees the agency was well aware that a new approach was needed for people with severe mental health issues and those who were homeless.
“We need to link the NDIS much more with other support services that people are receiving so we can help them before they get to a stage of homelessness,” Naughtin said.
“The sector also has a very important role in explaining the benefits of the NDIS to vulnerable people.”
Naughtin told Pro Bono News the NDIA had worked with the homelessness sector and state and territory governments over the past 12 months to improve its engagement with difficult to reach people.
“What has emerged through feedback and our own analysis, is that there are a number of homeless people who are likely eligible for the scheme, but who are unwilling or unable to navigate the current access process,” he said.
“So we have agreed that we will develop a specific strategy that deals with this issue.”
He said the Disability Reform Council last week agreed to improve the experience for people with psychosocial disability in the NDIS, and ensure the scheme works well together with mainstream mental health systems.
The council also welcomed the establishment of a Psychosocial Disability Recovery Framework, which will strongly focus on recovery and supporting episodic needs.
Disability advocates have long said the scheme needs to work better for people with episodic needs, noting the recovery-based model of mental health did not sit well with the NDIS’s focus on permanent and lifelong disability.
The panel discussed the problems community organisations were facing under the shifting mental health/NDIS landscape.
Carol Vale, the head of strategy at McAuley Community Services for Women, said her organisation was losing vital community mental health funding.
“We are now not able to support women and their kids into the NDIS because we are losing our funding and we are losing our staff,” Vale said.
“We have highly skilled, highly qualified, highly trained staff that we will no longer be able to employ.”
Vale also spoke about the challenges people with severe mental health issues faced that prevented them from using their NDIS funding.
She said people were having their NDIS funding reduced because they were “underutilising” their plans and the NDIA assumed this meant a lesser need.
But recent research found the underutlisation of NDIS funding was more commonly due to the episodic nature of mental illness, because people had been too unwell, or were unable to find anyone to offer services within their plan.
“The reason plans have been underutilised is because a person’s mental health hasn’t been stable enough and they haven’t had the support to manage their program,” she said.
“So it’s the severity of their mental health issue that actually precludes participants from using the NDIS.”
Another panellist, Dr Andrew Hollows from Launch Housing, added that the system did not accommodate the needs of people with severe mental health issues.
“When you look at people with psychosocial disability, we knew years ago that this was the group at the greatest risk of homelessness, but it wasn’t actually recognised and built into the design of the system,” Hollows said.
“We need to collectively work to build a good community mental health system outside the NDIS and make sure that issues around health [and recovery] are front and centre in this work.”