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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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Bishop Meagher: Homeless need friendship, not our fear

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homeless mental health - The Catholic weekly
Vinnies Van volunteers at the homeless memorial service. Photo Alphonsus Fok.

Sydney Bishop Daniel Meagher says he is distressed by the lack of support for people with acute mental illness who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and urged Catholics to get to know the people they see on the city’s streets. 

“There are people living lives of great loneliness without much social support at all and they can be easily caught in a cycle of becoming ill, hospitalised, returned home and becoming ill again,” he said. 

“I have acquaintances who have ended up sleeping rough when they are unwell and not able to look after themselves. One became wrongly convinced people kept trying to break into her home and didn’t feel safe there. 

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“While I’m not a medical expert it’s obvious to me that the system doesn’t have enough resources to care for people with acute mental illness, such as schizophrenia, who don’t have good social support.” 

The bishop has worked with the homeless and is supportive of charities which minister to them such as Cana Communities, David’s Place, and the Matthew Talbot Hostel. 

This month the NSW Government announced a $111.8 million package to support community mental health. 

Five outreach professionals will support people with a mental illness who are at risk of, or experiencing homelessness, to gain housing and to sustain their tenancies. 

homeless mental health - The Catholic Weekly
Photo Alphonsus Fok.

The package will also provide five workers for a community mental health team run by St Vincent’s Health. 

The bishop is pleased efforts are being made, but believes that following the de-institutionalisation of mental health care from long-term psychiatric facilities since the 1960s promised support for acute cases of mental illness in the community was not delivered. 

“It’s a concern that a lot of health professionals have, which I would endorse from my own experience of working with the homeless and housing commission residents in the inner city, Wolloomoolloo, Surry Hills and others,” he said. 

“People are just left to cope for themselves and it’s a bit like the parable about Lazarus who sat at the rich man’s gates each day and just wasn’t noticed. 

“We all see people on the streets and even if they do get agitated and act a bit erratically at times, we can just become used to it.” 

Bishop Meagher has befriended many rough sleepers and other marginalised Sydneysiders and urged Catholics to do the same. 

“Just say hello. Ask if you can get them a coffee or a sandwich. Have a conversation and just get to know them. It’s hard at first because we don’t know quite what to do, but don’t be afraid.” 

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