My accommodation journey – from prison to crisis housing to ‘Chateau Overachiever’

Content warning: reference to suicide, prison

Accommodation has been on my mind of late. I am about to purchase my second property so have been reflecting on my history of housing. I am now extremely privileged in terms of income and have a well-paid secure job – the kind of thing that banks get excited about! Most people with the sorts of experiences and issues I have are unable to even consider purchasing property so I am very lucky indeed. I don’t want to reflect on how unusual I am here – something I could definitely elaborate on but which probably wouldn’t be very interesting! I want to look at my history of difficult housing situations. 

Many autistic people are in insecure housing and many people with schizophrenia are too. And just to clarify – schizophrenia and autism are my two main ‘diversity’-type groups which often come with financial disadvantage attracted. 

When I was younger accommodation was a huge issue. I actually belong to a third group that has significant financial disadvantage attached and that is ex-prisoners. These days membership of that group has little to no impact on me as it was between 23 and 28 years ago but at the time there was a lot of financial trouble and associated homelessness in my life.

I moved out of home when I was 17. I shared houses and because of my autistic take on socialising not being understood and the difficulty I had in being assertive and raising issues with housemates I went through a lot of share house situations. Then when I was 20 I went to prison and spent the next five years in and out of institutions. I lived with my parents for a year and then descended into homelessness and incarceration. When I applied for public housing they categorised me as the highest priory as I had lived in 40 places in the preceding few years!

I remember living in a boarding house in St Kilda in Melbourne. My best friend in the house was a sex worker and heroin user. We would vent about the other women in the house who we found annoying. I hated living in this place but I had no control over where I lived. I was too poor to take out a private rental so lived in supported and crisis housing. From the boarding house I moved to a property owned by mental health charity the Richmond Fellowship. I stayed there for just over two years. I liked this house and made friends – and a partner – from among my housemates. From there I moved to a transitional apartment while I wanted for my public housing property to eb available. This apartment was amazing. It had two bedrooms and a bright green carpet! I would have happily lived there forever but it was only a stop gap before I got my public housing flat.

I thought I had done something clever when I applied for public housing. I didn’t want to live in a big complex of public housing flats. I had a friend who had got her public housing application limited to properties of three floors or less due to her mental health and suicide risk. I figured this was a great idea so I added that caveat to my own housing application. I figured I would get a public hosing flat in a block of private rentals. I would not have to live in the ghetto! Sadly they found me a flat in a big complex but the highest was there floors! Because I was on the priority list I could not decline the offer of this place.

I hated my flat from the moment I saw it. There was damp running down the walls. My neighbours were mostly people with alcohol and drug issues. I was still desperate to be socially accepted so I became an alcoholic myself in order to fit in and win the approval of my neighbours. I lived in this apartment for four years. One of my neighbours was a stalker. She was awful and never left me alone. She would glare at any female visitors I had – including my mum! The threat of being robbed or bashed was quite large at this place. At this point in my life I was going to university and planning to change my life for the better. The flat – and particularly my stalker – stood  for everything I wanted to get away from. While I was staying here I decided I needed a full-time well-paid job. I set about making that the path I would take. 

It was not easy changing my life but it was possible. It must be possible because I did it. I got my job, moved to Canberra and life was, well different. I bought a property in 2008. It was a bit of a compromise. The flat was very old and I kept getting plumbing issues. These resulted in high anxiety which -on two occasions – turned into psychosis and resulted in me being extremely unwell and taking months and years off work.

I sold that property in 2020. The plan was for me to buy another one but I was way too anxious at the point. It has only been in recent months that I have felt able to purchase somewhere and to be honest I am still not sure if it will be OK or if the process will make me unwell. I figure it is best out try such things and not be hampered by anxiety. So I will have my Castle Yennski – or as I am tempted to call it Chateau Overachiever – very soon. I am very grateful for how all these things seem to have worked our. Had you told me in 2000 when I had just been released from prison and was living in very unpleasant boarding house accommodation that I would have my accommodation that I do now I was have been very surprised – and probably told you to keep off the drugs!

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