Home is More than a Roof Over Our Head by lindayy


Home is More than a Roof Over Our Head

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									                    Home is More than a Roof Over Our Head

               Forum by the Office of the Public Advocate – Queensland

                                   Tuesday December 7, 2004

(Speech read by Lindsay Irons.)

I’d first like to acknowledge all the participants today – in particular Mr Andrew Fraser MP, the

Honourable Member for Mt. Coot-tha.

Mr Ian Boardman, the Public Advocate, has asked me to apologise for his absence today. He is

away from Brisbane with his children and partner, holidaying and enjoying all those things that

are happily associated with family life. In preparing for this speech Ian commented to us on how

different his life is from those many others who for a range of reasons don’t have the same

opportunity to make choices about how and where their lives are lived out, let alone have the

opportunity for a refreshing holiday at a chosen location. He was particularly referring to those

people who come within the mandate of his Office and who are inappropriately residing in

State-funded long-stay residential centres.

Like me, you may have heard Ian talk about the first few months in his new position, after

having taken up the role of Public Advocate in 2001. He spent the first months getting out and

talking to a lot of people across Queensland. The single most frequently raised issue was

accommodation – or more accurately – the lack of it. In this early phase he mostly took this

literally and interpreted accommodation in its physical sense to mean housing, buildings, and the

service delivery that happens in these buildings. Clearly physical accommodation, shelter,

housing (whatever we call it) is important. But the real issue is ‘housing and support’, which is

the systems term we often use. In human services this can often be veneer language – covering

up what, in human terms, is the fundamental need for home.

Home for most of us is inextricably connected with feelings of belonging, identity and security.

It is shorthand for many important things in life. It is a symbol for those comforting attributes

that anchor us and give us strength and resilience. Home is – or should be – our sanctuary in life.

When home is lost or when we are removed from it our physical and mental health can suffer.

Having a home – and feeling at home – is central to our well-being across the span of our lives.

Importantly having a home can also act as a safeguard for highly vulnerable people against

abuse, neglect and exploitation.

This is why for four years in a row the Public Advocate has recommended in his Annual Report

to the Queensland Parliament that relevant government agencies collaboratively implement

strategies to assess and address the residential support needs of the people with intellectual

disabilities who are inappropriately and inadequately accommodated in Queensland Health

facilities. This cohort could easily be widened to include many people with an acquired brain

injury who are also inappropriately residing in large facilities and who (together with the

aforementioned) miss out on the ordinary but rich satisfactions of a real home plus the

protection afforded by tenancy or home ownership.

The purpose and focus of this Forum is to rekindle our collective awareness of one section of

this particular cohort of people – those who still remain in large residential services and who

would rather not be there, along with their parents, family members or support networks who

wish them to leave and be supported in a different way. This different form of support is sought

because of a recognition that – despite the best intentions – congregated and segregated living

arrangements, standards, quality assurance, accreditation regimes, protocols, and community

visitor programs cannot keep people safe, well and happy to a degree that would be seen

desirable or even acceptable.

Today is not about debating the merits of deinstitutionalisation versus institutionalisation. We

are not here to talk about closure as a change process, but rather to get some momentum going

again, so that those who missed out on earlier institutional reform programs might have some

glimmer of hope for the future.

Making recommendations is a start – but obviously not sufficient in itself to achieve systemic

change. We trust that today’s discussions will indicate a constructive direction in which to

proceed. It is clear that this direction will need to followed by a number of government agencies

working collaboratively with families and their allies.

Queensland has had some success in the past in progressing this issue for citizens with a

psychiatric disability – namely Project 300. We know it can be done. The question is what

would it take to create the conditions under which something similar to the approach used by

Project 300 could occur for those we are focussing on today. Achievable realistic targets could

be set to enable at least some people each year to take this step in a safe, well-designed and

supported way.

We acknowledge that the present Government faces many competing demands – in particular

we know that Disability Services Queensland is shouldering more expectations than it can

conceivably deliver. The size of the unmet need is huge – despite the considerable input of new

government money over the past few years. Governments set their own priorities, but we know

that these priorities can change. Our message today is that in establishing a course for the future,

let us not forget those who at present have little hope of ever enjoying a life outside of large

facilities…of the experience of having a key to the door of their home, their own telephone

number, their own address…of the experience of being a neighbour, a host, a community

member, and part of a network of friends.

We would like to thank those agencies, families and individuals who approached the Office and

wanted to work with us to generate some leverage for change. They are the people who help

keep the Office of the Public Advocate grounded and relevant to the lived experience of

vulnerable people. Finally we would like to thank the representatives of government agencies

who have agreed to participate in the facilitated conversation. We are deliberately trying to

break new ground here and forge (or reforge) a better way of working together. That is,

government and the sector working in partnership – a partnership in which the power relations

are not totally skewed…a partnership that is effective because it is based on mutual respect and

an understanding of our differing but complementary roles and responsibilities.

Thank you for participation today.


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