Contested Housing Landscapes? Social Inclusion, Deinstitutionalisation and Housing Policy in Australia

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Debates on housing and social exclusion have drawn attention to the ways in which housing processes can be understood as processes that either promote social inclusion or contribute to social exclusion (Marsh and Mullins 1998). Somerville (1998: 772) states that social exclusion through housing happens 'if the effect of housing processes is to deny certain groups control over their daily lives, or to impair enjoyment of wider citizenship rights'. Clearly, long-stay residential care can be an extreme form of social exclusion, because it denies disabled people placed in this type of dependent care choice and control over where, and how, they live. Deinstitutionalisation, on the other hand, has been represented as a major step toward the social integration or inclusion of people residing in institutional care.

This paper will focus on the housing futures of people with intellectual disabilities who have been, or will be, deinstitutionalised. In 1999, throughout Australia, official data suggest that there were 4340 people whose primary disability is intellectual living in institutional accommodation (AIHW 2000). While research has highlighted the often negative consequences of deinstitutionalisation for people with mental health problems, particularly the risk of homelessness (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1993; Lezak and Edgar 1996; Slade et al. 1999), few attempts have been made to examine the future housing and support experiences of people with intellectual disabilities living in institutional care (see Neilson Associates 1990).

Deinstitutionalisation refers to the large-scale restructuring of human services delivery, usually involving the closure and/or downscaling of institutions and their replacement by a variety of community care homes (Chenoweth 2000; Gleeson 1999). It represents one of the most profound social policy shifts in the history of western welfare states (Mansell & Ericsson 1996; Pinch 1997) and since the 1960s all Australian states have pursued their own deinstitutionalisation programs. These programs involve a shift in both the housing context and support arrangements for people living in dependent care. However, in countries such as Australia and Britain, debates on care in the community have tended to focus on the nature of social, financial and therapeutic supports for people leaving institutions rather than the type of housing in which people will live.

Implicit within these debates has been the role of housing (Franklin 1998). Yet, the housing dimension, though often submerged in the discussions about community care, has been central to deinstitutionalisation. Within the British policy context, Bochel et al. (1999) argue that, while the much of the literature on community care does implicitly recognise the role of housing, few observers have made any attempt to explain its significance for service users and policy frameworks. They argue that this gap in scholarly literature 'fuels doubts about the extent to which housing intrudes into the thoughts of those closely interested in community care' (Bochel et al. 1999: 496).

Nevertheless, there is an emerging literature in Britain that is beginning to recognise and explore the fundamental role of housing. In 1995, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launched its 'Crossing the Housing and Care Divide' Program. The aim of the program was to stimulate service developments that would promote the integral role of housing within community care (see Cameron et al. 2001 for a detailed evaluation of the projects in this program). In Australia, however, housing agencies continue to play a supporting rather than strategic role in the development of community care policies. There is little evidence in this country that housing has been a key focus of scholarly and policy debates about community care development.

This paper aims to address this gap and focuses on the housing aspects of human service resettlement policies in Australia. …