Nasim McCormack has lived half his life with diagnosed schizophrenia. (ABC News: Tom Maddocks)
People living with acute mental illness in the Northern Territory are being forced to wait up to eight years for public housing, advocates say.
- NT Shelter says people are falling through the gaps in the Northern Territory’s public housing system
- About 4,200 families are waiting for access to public housing dwellings in the NT
- Schizophrenia patient Nasim McCormack has praised the “crucial” work of a support program
The majority of people living with mental illness in the NT are looking for long-term stable housing, but because of a severe housing shortage less than 10 per cent of those applicants are able to access that accommodation, according to NT Shelter, the peak body for affordable housing.
It said the public housing shortfall was also affecting people fleeing domestic violence and dealing with financial and family problems, and a national plan was badly needed to address the significant wait times.
“The same issues with long public housing wait lists and a lack of social and affordable housing is common across Australia,” NT Shelter’s executive officer Peter McMillan said.
“We really need to see a national plan with the Commonwealth and all states and territories working out what the demand will be in the future for social and affordable housing.”
Nasim discovers his safe place
Nasim McCormack was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager.
“So I was 17 years old and the doctor found that I wasn’t coping with work and this and that,” Mr McCormack said.
“So he put me on mood stabilisers.”
It was a scary time as he went in and out of Darwin’s mental health ward.
But life is now stable for the 34-year-old, and when he is not living independently in an apartment, he stays at Papaya, a short-term housing facility for people living with mental illness.
“Being somewhere safe is very crucial to being able to self-medicate.
“You can’t just walk around with a bag full of pills.”
The housing program run by not-for-profit support service TeamHEALTH helps participants like Nasim with daily tasks like cooking and cleaning, skills needed to live independently in the community.
Thousands left waiting for homes
However, there are not enough supported accommodation programs for clients, transitional housing is hard to come by and achieving long-term safe, affordable housing is often difficult.
There are currently about 4,800 public housing dwellings in urban areas across the NT.
About 4,200 eligible families are waiting for access to that housing, but the shortfall in housing is so great that applicants are forced to wait anywhere between two to eight years.
NT Shelter said more houses were being built in the NT but an increase in demand had outstripped the growth of supply.
Mr McMillan said low-income earners were having to find private rental properties, placing them under rental stress.
Peter McMillan from NT Shelter has called for a national plan to address chronic shortages in affordable housing. (ABC News: Tom Maddocks)
“That contributes to adverse mental health outcomes for a number of people,” he said.
“So unfortunately, a risk of homelessness provides real risks to your mental health, which in turn can drive homelessness.”
Vital support through programs
He said supported housing programs provided a vital level of support for people like Mr McCormack by reducing the incidences of hospitalisation, taking away the risk of homelessness and providing more self-belief, confidence and hope to be able to reconnect with family and friends and live more independently.
“Knowing that some people in my family don’t want to talk about my illness, that hurts, that really does hurt, but my mum is great,” Mr McCormack said.
For now, Mr McCormack is trying to keep life simple.
“I’m comfortable. I’m by myself. I have the most cleanest house in the neighbourhood,” he said.
“Every day I say: ‘What chore am I to do today?'”
He has even had time to go fishing.
“I caught a big bream which was 35 centimetres. The neighbour’s dog bloody came and ate it!” he said.