Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
25 Jul 2012
Back in 1993, Sr Myree co-founded CASA (the Coalition for Appropriate Supported Accommodation) to lobby the government for stronger regulations of the privately-run for-profit hostels and boarding houses that looked after the state's low income mentally ill and disabled.
Catholic Social Services, Mary MacKillop Outreach, Exodus Foundation, Council for Intellectual Disability, Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW, Mission Australia, Salvation Army, People with Disability Australia and the Mental Health Coordinating Council were among the many organisations who signed on and worked with Sr Myree for tighter controls and regulations of LRCs.
But despite their best efforts, it took the deaths of six mentally ill residents at a Marrickville house of horrors in 2009 and 2010 and the resultant scandal to galvanise the state's politicians into action.
State Coroner, Mary Jarram at the Inquest into the deaths of Shaneen Batts, Ilona Takacs, Dorothy Hudson, Ian Birks, Donald MacKellar and Mohammed Ramzan held in May this year, found there was no question that the six who died had been "uncared for, poorly treated medically and neglected."
Almost immediately, the NSW Government released a draft Exposure Bill to tighten regulations, create proper standards for LRCs and ensure those who live in these hostels or boarding houses are guaranteed oversight and proper protection.
Submissions on the Bill will close on 10 August with both sides of the House expected to give bipartisan support to the legislation which is expected to come into force from 1 January next year.
"The Exposure Bill is the government's first real move in the right direction," says Sr Myree who while grateful the NSW Government is at last taking action, is saddened that it took the "unnecessary and tragic" deaths of six people to highlight what was going on and reveal the neglect and squalid conditions under which many of society's most vulnerable people have been forced to live.
"Residents in these places have no one to speak for them, no advocates and no friends or family they can contact. They are completely alone and until the bill goes through and they are given occupancy rights they are at the mercy of the owners. The owner often holds their bank book, Medicare card and pension card and they are too terrified to speak up if things are bad in case they are thrown out," Sr Myree says. "They literally have nowhere to go and nowhere to turn."
But what began as an admirable initiative, foundered from a lack of funding and as the years progressed, funding for community mental health teams who were supposed to monitor residents also suffered cutbacks.
As the years have gone by, many of those deinstitutionalised are now elderly and in need of extra care. But countless attempts by CASA over the past two decades for an overhaul of the system and better protection for society's most vulnerable were met with apathy and disinterest.
"The scandal at Marrickville exposed the inertia of the government at all levels and over many years and a general unwillingness to take action," Sr Myree says.
"Once the Bill becomes law, residents will no longer be thrown out on the streets at a moment's notice," says Sr Myree who speaks of the ill, desperate people she finds standing stunned and uncomprehending amongst their meagre belongings after being tossed out of a boarding house.
She also recalls the scandal prior to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when hundreds of those living in LRCs were tossed out to make way for tourists arriving in the city for the big event.
The Bill will also ensure that LRCs are clean, secure and safe for those living there and that proper trained staff are in charge so that the tragedy that occurred at Marrickville will not be repeated.
"The death of the one of the residents at Marrickville was a result of choking on his food," Sr Myree says. "But when he began choking instead of taking action or calling paramedics, staff rang the boarding house owner to ask what to do."
Another death at Marrickville was caused by poisoning by an overdose of an anti-psychotic drug administered by the boarding house cook.
"These deaths should fill us all with shame," she says.
SHARED FROM ARCHDIOCESE OF SYDNEY