Stigma Stoppers

MENTAL illness made finding a place to stay a risky prospect for Robert*.

The North Shore resident feared being stigmatised by potential landlords because he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Renting on the Shore would have been hard had it not been for the Bays Community Housing Trust.

“They’re an absolute godsend for people like me,” he says.

“It’s vital finding somewhere where you don’t have to explain to a private landlord you have some sort of illness.  I can’t praise them enough.”

Robert was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after the death of his father.

He was given a place in a communal living centre in the South Island after coming out of hospital but wanted to move to Auckland.

That became a reality when Shore mental health organisation Equip referred him to the housing trust.

It found him a place to stay in one of the 11 houses it owns on the North Shore and charged him a rent well below market rates.

Without that help, many people with mental health issues would struggle for appropriate accommodation, he says.

“It’s absolutely vital.  People do suffer discrimination, especially if there are physical aspects to their illness.

“There are people who come out of hospital and end up in a bedsit that is claustrophobic and detrimental to their health.

“When you’ve got the accommodation I’ve got, it’s not a house, it’s a home.”

The Bays Community Housing Trust was set up by Long Bay Baptist Church members in 2004.

They saw a need for affordable, good quality housing for people with mental illness on the North Shore.

In two years the trust has bought 11 houses with the help of Housing New Zealand, a figure it wants to raise to 50 within six years.

Housing trust board member Gordon Duncan says the aim is to expand the trust’s service to people in economic or social need.

He knows there’s a need out there, because the trust has never waited more than a week to find a new tenant.

“The vision of what this could be keeps us going.  There are many people who struggle to find affordable housing.  We’re just scratching the surface really.”

Trust secretary Neil Binnie says the trust’s aim will always be to treat others with the dignity and respect.

“It comes from the conviction that all people are important to God.

“It’s neighbour helping neighbour.  Christ didn’t ignore the poor.”

*Name has been changed to protect Robert’s family.