Safety and security and a place to call home are basic human needs, for everyone. I think it is particularly important for Autistic people like me who struggle with change and anxiety to feel safe and secure in housing. The possibility that one will need to leave their home unexpectedly or not have a home at all is quite terrifying.
Sadly many people on the Autism spectrum struggle with accommodation problems, including insecure housing, inappropriate housing, loud and /or aggressive neighbours, exploitative property owners, abusive and /or exploitative housemates, unsuitable group homes, ‘supported’ accommodation which is far from supportive, all types of homelessness from couch surfing to sleeping rough and no doubt some other horrors which I haven’t mentioned.
I think accommodation is sometimes a neglected topic in Autism circles but it is a really vital need and when it is not appropriate, it can cause extreme stress. Work does need to be done on addressing housing needs for Autistic people in may different situations.
Here is a story abut my experiences of homelessness and how I unexpectedly found ‘home’. My story won’t change the world but it demonstrates how I learned to make the imperfect situation suitable and adjust my thinking.
I am thinking of this topic now because I have recently wondered if I should sell Whimsy Manor, my lovely but rather tired and ageing one-bedroom flat in Canberra’s suburbs. Today’s version of me is far from homeless. I have had a mortgage for over seven years and, because I have largely retained the poor person’s frugality with funds – I am well on my way to paying off my home loan. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks looking at apartments online. I can afford to buy a really lovely apartment in a swanky complex with a pool and a gym and other things I probably wouldn’t use. My visitors – for example my movie night friends or visiting advocate friends and colleagues – wold need to press a buzzer to enter and I would see them on a little screen. My kitchen would be shiny and full of new appliances (and I still don’t really know how to use a dishwasher). Today, after much bourgeois fantasies of shiny new flats which would somehow make ex-prisoner, former socialist, quirky me respectable, I decided to stick with Whimsy Manor, which was built in the same year I was born and has the original kitchen and clothes dryer that it came with in 1974.
So I suppose here’s the bit where I explain this apparently strange piece of logic. Nineteen years ago I had just been released from one of my fairly frequent visits to the penitentiary. I wasn’t really a bad person but a mad one. My mental health issues coupled with my very bleak world view turned me into an aggressive and self-destructive person who actively sought out punishment and negativity. Magistrates all concluded that prison was not the place for me but sadly there was no other place for me so I spent from 1994 to 1999 in and out of correctional institutions and psychiatric hospitals. In 1997 I was in a relationship with a woman who was definitely not right for me. She she considerably more self-destructive and aggressive than me and our relationship was based on out-doing one another on how much damage we could cause, often to ourselves. I thought that this time that I was released was going to be the last time. My partner welcomed me into her house in a fairly iffy suburb in western Melbourne. Before long I realised I was not in a good place. It was an hour’s walk to the train station which was the only public transport there was. So effectively I was trapped. Entertainment involved getting very drunk and playing poker machines and I hate poker machines (but oddly I always won when I did deign to put a couple of dollars in the slot!) My partner stole money from me and was abusive. I was trapped with an abusive thief. Prison seemed a good option so I did some stupid pointless crime and there I was again, ‘home.’
This kind of experience was typical of my shadow life then. Prison was the closest place to a home I had. I knew all the staff and most of the inmates. It was safe in some respects although very dangerous in others. Eventually I overcome the worst effects of my illness and started to see things positively. I enrolled in university in 2001 and never looked back. But housing issues followed me wherever I went. I went through all sorts of crisis accommodation, psychosocial rehabilitation houses, transitional properties and eventually a public housing flat. While this flat was technically stable and safe it was in fact a bit of a nightmare. It was a horrible property with damp literally running down the walls. Everything I owned got wrecked by the must and mould. The neighbours were far worse than the mould, with one of them actually stalking me and her acts haunting me for years after I moved away. I was desperate to escape my awful flat and I did. I am a determined Jeanette after all. I scored a job in the public service through some amazing twist of improbability and moved to Canberra.
I found accomodation quite quickly in Canberra and shared a house with an odd lady and her unfriendly cats. The house was a three bedroom house with a back yard and a front yard and a deck. It was all recently renovated. I felt like all my Christmases had come at once. That is until I realised that my housemate was rather controlling and unpleasant. My difficulties with the housemate prompted me to do something very bold – I bought a little flat in the southern suburbs of Canberra but it was certainly not my first choice. I didn’t have much savings and couldn’t afford one of the new shiny properties so I ‘made do.’ For years I regretted my decision. I endured plumbing problems which were so stressful I became unwell with my mental illness and had to take months off work. Housing was apparently always going to be an issue for me. Surely I would always have to make do and live somewhere substandard. I was going to be condemned to feeling like homeless Jeanette forever with no control.
Thankfully that actually stopped being true. As I started to recover from my episode of illness, a lovely friend who is a cat rescue person gave me the best gift I have ever received: a quirky, clever, idiosyncratic black cat who I christened Hieronymus Bosch Kitty Purkis II (‘Mr Kitty’ to his friends). Mr Kitty helped to make my flat a home. I looked forward to coming home from work. The concept of Whimsy Manor grew from there and now my home is an ally, not an enemy. So after ogling property for couple of weeks I got home today and thought ‘I don’t want to leave Whimsy Manor. It’s a part of me and I love it.’ I will still get to say to everyone who I open the door to ‘Welcome to Whimsy Manor!’ I have my home and my security and I am a happy little person.