Oaks Estate a de facto mental health detention centre, say residents

Oaks Estate a de facto mental health detention centre, say residents

Dozens of run-down Housing ACT properties are being used as a dumping ground for the homeless, the mentally ill and those just released from the Alexander Maconochie Centre, according to residents of the ACT's smallest suburb, Oaks Estate.

About 43 per cent [78] of Oaks Estate's 181 homes are public housing. Progress association secretary, Kate Gauthier, said more than half of these [about 46] had been targeted for the most "high-need and high-risk" people in the community under programs such as Extended Throughcare​ and St Vincent De Paul's Samaritan House and Samaritan Services.

Welcome to Oaks Estate, the suburb where the only retail business is a liquor store and no buses run.

Welcome to Oaks Estate, the suburb where the only retail business is a liquor store and no buses run. Credit:Graham Tidy

"Residents are supportive of public housing and support social programs for vulnerable people," Ms Gauthier said.

"But the way these [public housing and programs for the vulnerable] are being mismanaged is having a negative effect on all residents including public housing tenants and the participants in the [support] programs."


The ACT Government could not say how many former AMC inmates were being sent to Oaks Estate under Extended Throughcare.

"From October 1, 2014, to September 30, 2015, there were 247 releases to Throughcare," a spokesman for Corrections Minister, Shane Rattenbury, said.

"Due to the high number of participants and the resources required to manually extract the data I am unable to provide the total [sent to Oaks Estate]."

He said three people on community-based orders, which included bail, probation, good behaviour and community service orders, had been living at Oaks Estate as of May 11.

"There may be individuals participating in Extended Throughcare [which is voluntarily taken up by 98 per cent of people leaving AMC] without a post custody supervision order [such as bail, probation and the like]."

Located 15km from Civic on the NSW border at Queanbeyan, Oaks Estate has long been recognised as one of the most disadvantaged, parts of the ACT.

At $778, the median weekly household income is one third of Barton's [$2581] and half of Queanbeyan's [$1522]. More than a third of the 250 to 260 residents depend on welfare and live in public housing units.

Ms Gauthier said at least half of these, about a quarter of the estate's total population, would have been sent to Oaks under programs targeting the homeless, the mentally ill and former convicts.

The concentration of high-need and high-risk people contributed to the estate's low level of car ownership [75 per cent compared to 90 per cent across the whole of the ACT] she said.

This made the problems caused by the lack of a direct public transport link to Canberra even worse.

"Many public housing residents are trapped in a tiny community where the only retail business is a bottle shop," one man, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said.

With 78 ACT Housing homes for a population of 260 people [308 dwellings per 1000 people], Oaks Estate's public housing mix is 10 times the Canberra average of 30 dwellings per 1000 and almost 20 times the national average of 17 dwellings per 1000.

"It is unsustainable," Ms Gauthier said. "There is a concentration of people here with mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues and a history of criminal activity."

Repeated approaches to the ACT Government for better public housing, a bus service and even funds to clean the new federally funded public toilet had fallen on deaf ears.

"We have met with the Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, and the Housing Minister, Yvette​ Berry, and been told there are no plans to sell the Oaks Estate units [which were never designed as public housing, are more than 42 years old and reportedly in poor repair] because there would be no money in it," Ms Gauthier​ said. "We were also told there are no plans to upgrade the existing public housing stock."

"This is not a good place to send people who have come out of prison wanting to make a fresh start."

David Ellery is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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