Friday, September 19, 2014

Boarding House Residents Stories: Gretta

Welcome to our series of Boarding House Residents Stories exploring a range of residents experiences in boarding houses. The stories have been collected and written by Sally Chalmers, Resources & Development, Boarding House Services, Newtown Neighbourhood Centre.

Gretta moved to Sydney from the Central Coast for a few important reasons. Firstly, to be in a better place for proximity to support services and transport, and secondly but more importantly, so she could access the social networks and activities that help her to enjoy life.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder means sometimes life is very challenging for Gretta. She has learned to manage this illness over time and with the right medication, but still struggles with other physical health conditions as well. Despite these illnesses, Gretta is full of humour and has a positive outlook, even though she has had some very difficult times finding a place to call home during her years in Sydney.

She’s lived in a women’s refuge and had social housing briefly in Redfern – where she mentions that someone actually held a syringe to her throat over a cigarette! Most of her accommodation has been in boarding houses in the Inner West.

When she first moved from the refuge into a boarding house she liked the independence, but felt very scared of being in a new place. Some residents would come back late at night, very drunk. The other residents would not ask them to be quiet or call the police as they didn’t want to bring trouble to themselves, and as the only woman in the house Gretta would just keep her door firmly locked. She moved from place to place to try and find one that suited her. She doesn’t mind her current place as it is in a suburb she likes, near transport and there are only six other residents which also makes it feel more like a home.

Gretta feels that her current living arrangement is acceptable, but it also contributes to her bipolar condition. She’d like to have her friends over but doesn’t because other people in the house always want to know what’s going on even when it’s not their business. She says about her condition, “It’s very frustrating when you know how you want things to be and they just can’t be that way. I feel angry but if I show this then I’m likely to be booted out and back to square one, and this is why I isolate myself more.”

Gretta is on a disability support pension. When asked how she manages financially she says “Rent always comes first. I can always go to a food van for the other basics.” When asked about finding private rental she laughs and talks honestly about how it’s impossible to find something on her own for less than $300/week. She has tried to save up but it’s impossible to save a 4-6 week deposit on her low income – as well as paying a month in3 advance. It’s not only the money that’s difficult. She talks about the hugely overwhelming task of getting a lease. The forms and paperwork are very hard to understand and her rental history makes it difficult to get a good and reliable reference which is a priority for estate agents. She says “I do want to find my own place but I just can’t afford it – unless I live in my own cardboard box somewhere!”

Gretta is a very outgoing individual when her mental health is going well, and participates in a theatre group called ‘Milk Crate Theatre’. When she visits the Neighbourhood Centre in Newtown, she often sits and chats with a group of friends or workers. She’s doing a Diploma of Community Services, and is looking forward to working as a social worker or in counselling, where she feels her experience will be instrumental in helping those facing similar challenges to herself.

Gretta's story originally appeared in the Tenant News #107. For more information on boarding houses, why not subscribe to Onboard, our new e-bulletin all about Boarding Houses? For individual advice about issues in a boarding house, or any tenancy issues, contact your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service.

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