WHAT started as a one-of-a-kind accommodation facility in Queanbeyan has now become a beacon of caring, community-based mental health treatment for various community and charity groups across the nation.
HOME in Queanbeyan was the first community-run organisation in Australia offering long-term accommodation, treatment and support to the mentally ill when it opened in July 2010.Less than three years later, manager Anne Pratt is now fielding calls from groups across Australia that are using HOME in Queanbeyan as their model for building a modern, holistic mental health treatment facility.
Ms Pratt has spoken with groups from Canberra, the NSW North Coast, South Coast and Brisbane over recent weeks and said she was proud of the positive reputation that HOME has developed.
"Our name is getting out there a little bit, and it's becoming known that what we're doing is successful and completely different to what's previously been done in this field," she said.
Before HOME, most treatment options for people with serious mental health problems, whether private or government owned, were focused on treating symptoms rather than providing ongoing care.
However HOME in Queanbeyan recognised that most people with serious, ongoing mental health conditions were in and out of hospital, and needed more consistent monitoring and support.
HOME offered them long-term accommodation where residents can be assured of company, a clean bed to sleep in and regular health check-ups. It can house 19 people at any one time.
"Support accommodation for people with mental illness hasn't been a priority for governments, particularly long-term. It's mostly short-term treatment [they're focussed on]," Ms Pratt said.
"What happens then is that people are sick for the long-term: for many people it's not just a short-term illness. So as soon as they lose that security of somewhere safe to live, their mental illness then becomes very unstable, and they become ill and often end up in hospital," she said.
HOME is proudly community-owned and run and operates without Government funding, which goes someway to explaining its different model, Ms Pratt said.
"When we were working towards opening HOME, it was very difficult to get support at that time. Governments kept saying "that's not our model."
However she also believes the level of care that places like HOME can provide can be more easily provided by community groups.
"What we do here is simple, sort of loving and caring for people…there's other things that obviously go with it, making sure their physical health is good and they're getting their medications and all these sorts of things…but it's not easy for governments to do that [loving and caring role]. Communities can do that a lot better than governments can," she said.
"So I'm not putting it on to governments, because I don't think we should always rely on governments to do that sort of thing."
NSW minister for mental health Kevin Humphries is also a strong supporter of HOME, and has been an advocate of the model since visiting last April.
"I am a strong advocate of models which embrace community action and engagement to improve the lives of those touched by mental illness, and that is why I believe the HOME model works so well and would be one for similar service providers to follow," he said this week.
Minister Humphries said Ms Pratt was "absolutely spot on" in noting the limitations on government in providing holistic mental health treatment, and said it was an area that the whole community should be responsible for.
"I have said many times that improving outcomes in mental health is a community issue, and that we can only achieve real and long term change if we all take responsibility.
"One of the biggest reasons HOME works so well is that is has worked hard to achieve support across the local community, which means that the community reaches out to help those that need it, and ultimately HOME's residents becoming valued members of the community," he said.
*To find out more about HOME, visit www.homeinqueanbeyan.org.