At the age of 34 I purchased a property after having been employed in a professional role in the public service for just over eighteen months. This doesn’t sound very exciting or momentous – single professional woman buys entry level property and fills it with ‘nice things’ – not really a headline for the front page. For me however, buying a property was an amazing and magical – and very scary – thing.
Housing was always a challenge for me. I moved out of home at 17, an undiagnosed Aspie sharing accommodation with other young adults who seemed to be privy to a secret rule book about share house ettiequte which I was not able to read. I went through a new share house every six months for some years. I would either find the inhabitants of the house irritating but be unable to tell them or the housemates would get sick of me and move out leaving me lonely and poor paying the rent for an entire house and sitting by the phone waiting for it to call. My last share house in that period was with some heroin-using hippies. I didn’t realise they were using hard drugs and had seen then smoke weed but nothing else. I left this house quite dramatically, being arrested and sent to jail due to my scary criminal boyfriend at the time convincing – and coercing me – to be part of his hapless criminal acts. I remember asking the cops if I could say goodbye to my beloved cat Sensei and them refusing. While I was in prison the hippie ex-housemates convinced me to given them my bank details under the premise of paying a month of rent I owed. When I was released from prison I discovered they had stolen all my money – $4000 I had saved carefully during my two years employed in a fast food restaurant. They said it was compensation for having the police in their house. I took this on face value and felt guilty about upsetting them so much that they needed to take my money.
My life after than went on a bit of a chaotic trajectory. When I applied for public housing some years later I was assessed as being the highest level of housing need and was granted a spot on the priority housing list as a homeless person. I was a little surprised at this as I hadn’t slept under a bridge or anything, When I saw my application and the list of over forty addresses I had lived at in the preceding years I had some kind of understanding of why I was granted priority status.
I was in receipt of income support benefits for fifteen continuous years. The worst thing about this was the complete lack of choice around where I lived. I spent years being sent to live wherever there was a spare place – from crisis housing in a rooming house down a dodgy street in St Kilda where stray dogs prowled and which was so poorly lit at night I wouldn’t venture outside the house after 6pm! I also lived in variety of mental health crisis accommodation programs. I spent two years sharing a house with fourteen others, all young people with serious mental illness. A lot of drugs and drinking went on and the house was an old mansion which was home to a bunch of huge spiders and very unhappy ghosts of former residents forever condemned to exist in crisis accommodation. The house also came with some staff members who had got paternalism down to a fine art. The rules at the house were often nonsensical and counterproductive.
When I finally got my ‘own’ public housing property – which I was expected to inhabit until my dying day – I was filled with horror. Because I was on the priority list for public housing, I had to accept the first property I was offered, otherwise I would go to the back of the waiting list. I thought I had cleverly avoided high density public housing because my application had a note from my psychiatrist saying I shouldn’t be in a development of more than three stories high. Most of the public housing in Melbourne at that time was high rise and I really didn’t want to live somewhere like that, Sadly I was given a place in a huge development of many blocks of twelve units. There were more than 100 flats and most of them were inhabited by alcoholics and drug addicts There were even school bullies who always asked me if I was a boy or a girl. Their derision took me straight back to my own school days. I lived in this place for almost four years, I befriended many of the alcoholics. Socialising with alcoholics involves getting drunk, a lot. I was studying my honours and then masters while living in this place and attended many tutorials very cranky and hung over. I had a stalker too – a woman who was obsessed with me, and was very aggressive. It took me four years to exorcise her malevolence from my mind after I stopped seeing her.
The funny thing is that my awful housing situation was a catalyst in me getting an education and applying for public service jobs despite the likelihood of my success in the applications being almost zero. Had I lived in a nice low density housing complex, with some pubic housing and some privately-owned properties I would probably still be in Melbourne, probably doing paintings to sell at the market or teaching one art subject as a sessional lecturer. Of course ether that ir y actual path would have been nice too. The fact that my living situation was so challenging set me on the path to where I am now. I am happy about that.
I do love my little flat called Whimsy Manor, with all its art and its resident black cat. It took me a few years to appreciate the charms of my little apartment. I had a number of expensive maintenance issue for the first couple of years and these contributed to a significant episode of mental illness that lasted a few years. I felt my flat was a compromise as it was one of the cheapest units on the market and I was desperate to move to escape a scarily controlling housemate when I first moved to Canberra. I had to make a conscious effort to love and accept my home, The change in attitude is evidenced by the proliferation of art which is now hung salon style form every available surface.
I often reflect on how fortunate I am to have this little piece of Canberra which is crammed full of Jeanette things. I don’t have to share it with anyone except Mr Kitty, there is no longer a risk of being robbed by the junkies next door – because I’m fairly certain there are no junkies next door! My home is my supportive place. I know that many others in the world are not that fortunate though. There are so many people living in unsuitable housing or insecure housing. It can be a huge issue for Autistic people. We can struggle in shared housing and low employment rates mean for many people buying property is an impossible fantasy. I wish I could buy a Whimsy Manor for everyone who needs one.