22 Mar 2017

Row over location of Wellington mental health facility

9:37 am on 22 March 2017

Residents of a Wellington suburb want a mental health facility moved, saying its patients pose a danger to children who have to walk past it every day.

New Zealand children traditionally start school within one or two weeks of their fifth birthday.

Photo: 123RF

The residence in Whitby is run by Pathways on behalf of Capital and Coast District Health Board.

It opens onto a passage often used by students from nearby Adventure School, on Exploration Way.

Patients at the facility choose to admit themselves and can leave at any time, without supervision.

Local father Andy Sole said that was part of the problem neighbours had.

"The kids, who cannot fend for themselves, shouldn't be put in that sort of danger, and those risks need to be managed," he said.

"The house needs to move somewhere where there aren't as many kids walking past every day, and just reduce that risk to them, essentially."

Pathways called the police when a patient they were concerned about goes missing, but did not carry out criminal record checks on patients, most of whom stay for two to four days.

Diana, who did not want her last name used, lived next door to the home.

She said she had had a "shocking" experience with one mentally ill resident, who broke into her home and demanded Diana return her young baby.

"There needs to be a total re-look at moving the location [of the facility]," Diana said.

However, some residents - many of whom had lived on the street for years - said they had not even known about the home.

Adventure School principal John Wootton said the threat to children was unacceptable.

"Facilities of that nature ... they shouldn't be in a situation where [patients'] behaviour can impact on the safety of children."

But another local, Wai, told a different story.

She checked herself into the facility after being diagnosed with cancer in 2015 - and said the feeling of being in a normal, secure community was vital in her recovery.

"To walk down the street, to see normal people walking past, reminded me of the things that I enjoyed," she said.

"They didn't know who I was and I didn't know who they were but we were on the same street, and for a moment we passed each other, and there was a connection. And we carried on walking."

While she could understand why parents were concerned, Wai said they should stay open-minded.

"Respite works really well for some people. Hospitals may work better for some people. So it's about finding the right mix, and the right space. And I'm not the one to say how you do that - I just know what works for me."

The DHB and Pathways said they appreciated the community feedback and would consider it.