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Homeless Persons Legal Clinic Lock Them Up Conference Mental Health, Homelessness & the Law: a Queensland Perspective.

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Presentation on theme: "Homeless Persons Legal Clinic Lock Them Up Conference Mental Health, Homelessness & the Law: a Queensland Perspective."— Presentation transcript:

1 Homeless Persons Legal Clinic Lock Them Up Conference Mental Health, Homelessness & the Law: a Queensland Perspective

2 Overview HPLC in brief Mental Health and Homelessness Prison / streets / Prison / streets Cycle of offending – public space law Research framework: iterative homelessness & mental health Strategies & recommendations

3 HPLC Project of QPILCH Free legal advice to homeless or people at risk of homelessness Outreach service 8 legal clinics at places frequented by homeless people Partnership with private, community and government sector Advice provided in all areas of law, including family and criminal law referrals

4 Homelessness in Qld Primary, secondary, tertiary Social exclusion, lack of being at home 24,596 homeless in Qld – 2001 Census 16% primary 62% secondary 22% tertiary 69.8 per 10,000: 2 nd highest in Aust. Brisbane Homelessness Taskforce 345 homeless within 3km City Hall

5 Causes of homelessness Complex and varied, but include: Structural – poverty, unemployment Economic – funding cuts for essential services, lack of priority Individual – substance abuse, ill health, family breakdown Intersectional and interrelated

6 Exclusion Dimensions of exclusion: Social exclusion loneliness, stigma Economic exclusion unemployment, breaches of Centrelink benefits Institutional exclusion poor health, low education, high incarceration rates Territorial exclusion rootlessness, marginalisation Symbolic exclusion self-harm, suicide

7 Mental Health & Homelessness Up to 80% homeless people experience mental health problems High co-morbidity & dual diagnosis Affective and non-psychotic disorders are most prevalent HPLC does not see homeless people with acute mental health issues

8 Cause or Consequence? Homelessness is a cause and consequence of poor mental health As a cause: mental illness increases a persons vulnerability to homelessness As a consequence: direct correlation between length of homelessness & worsening mental health

9 Trauma: Iterative Homelessness Dr Catherine Robinson – UTS Repeated failed attempts to establish a home result in fresh, accumulated trauma which compounds poor mental health & persistent homelessness Breaking the cycle requires a healing framework



12 Public Space Law 21% HPLC clients – summary criminal offences: Begging in a public place Being drunk in a public place Public nuisance Possession of a dangerous drug Contravening a lawful police direction

13 Mental health issues? 2006 research by Dr Tamara Walsh 15% public nuisance defendants had recognised cognitive, behavioural, psychological impairments Legal Aid Queensland Homelessness & Street Offences Project 39% charged with public order offences 74% had prior criminal histories Up to 56% mental health issues Approximately 33% substance abuse issues Majority sleeping rough at the time of the offence

14 Public Space Law Criminalises behaviour that is otherwise legal e.g. alcohol consumption Disproportionately targets and discriminates against homeless people Heavy users of public space Less able to comply with the law as a result of their homelessness

15 Move-On Powers Failure to comply with lawful police direction – max. $3,000 fine A persons presence or behaviour: Making people anxious Interfering with trade or business Disrupting an event Offending or threatening people

16 Consequences? Inflexibility in sentencing practices Approx. 70% monetary fine (Dr Walsh) High failure to appear rate - 18% LAQ Compounding trauma & exclusion Positive initiatives include: Homeless Persons Court Diversion Special Circumstances List

17 Diversionary Schemes Pilot Court Diversion Program Homeless people charged with public space offences Support homeless people in court Divert away from sentencing to support services Reduce fines for public space offences Prevent cycle of offending and punishment Special Circumstances Court

18 A healing response? Housing connected with intensive support and integrated service delivery to stabilise and heal Experience of HPLC Host Agencies Iris and Johns story

19 Recommendations Police training – circumvent entry into criminal justice system Legislative reform Early intervention Holistic and tightly integrated service delivery which acknowledges centrality of trauma in healing More funding for NGO sector

20 HPLC Contacts QPILCH Phone: 3012 9773 Fax: 3012 9774 Post: GPO Box 1543, Brisbane QLD Website: HPLC Co-ordinator: Monica Taylor Email:

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