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Mental health funding cuts spark fears of 'social mess'

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Henrietta Cook and Richard Willingham

At least 25 specialist mental health organisations helping the homeless, domestic violence victims and young people face an uncertain future after the Napthine government stripped them of funding.

Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge recently announced the winners of the government's recommissioning of community mental health services but the move has been described as the ''corporatisation of welfare'' by many organisations.

Under the changes, only 16 organisations will deliver community-based mental health services across Victoria, down from 45 organisations.

Staff at many of the community organisations have already been made redundant and there have been warnings the funding cuts will create ''a social mess''.

St Mary's House of Welcome was told the day after the state budget it would no longer receive funding from the government.

The Fitzroy organisation has been helping the homeless since 1959 and has received government funding to provide services for the mentally ill for the past 28 years.

Chief executive Tony McCosker said the organisation helped people with complex needs who were excluded from other agencies.

McAuley Community Services for Women also had its funding cut for a program that helps domestic violence victims with a mental illness not slip back into homelessness. ''We haven't experienced a cut to the same extent as others but we are worried about what this signals,'' said chief executive Jocelyn Bignold.

One of the big winners of the recommissioning of services is Neami National, which has secured work in every region of metropolitan Melbourne for a range of services.

''This means we will be working in many areas of Melbourne where we haven't had a presence previously and engaging with a range of new community partners to provide the strongest possible support for each person's individual recovery work,'' a statement on the organisation's website reads.

Richmond Labor MP Richard Wynne said many of the agencies provided unique specialist care, which relied on strong relationships between groups and clients. ''This decision will mean that long-standing relationships built up over years will be severed for the truly most vulnerable street people,'' Mr Wynne said.

The government argues that streamlining operations means more funds can be spent on actual service delivery and provide greater transparency in the industry.

''Mental health services, families, carers and people with a mental illness have been calling for change and our reform will deliver improved access to better quality services and greater flexibility to respond to individual needs,'' Ms Wooldridge said in early May.

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