In February, we lost another family from our community in Millers Point.
There was ‘May’ (not her real name), who has Downs Syndrome, her parents who were refugees and her siblings who went to school and lived for over two decades in the area.
Those who care about people with significant disability know how hard it can be to achieve inclusion, to have real friends and relationships with those without impairments and to be allowed and encouraged to contribute to others.
Outside of her roles in the family, May was a valued community member and regular church attendee and helper at the oldest Catholic place of worship in Australia.
We first met May about 7 years ago when my daughter and I started attending St Brigid’s. We had only recently moved to the area but May and her large family had lived here for over two decades and were well known in the community. After we got to know them, we looked forward to May and her mother always greeting us with a beautiful smile and hug, and paying attention, especially to my littlest girl after she was born.
She played tennis at the local club and was liked by many in her community, especially by those who came to know her through church. She made her first communion with two other young women there, in 2013, and the congregation celebrated together afterwards.
May regular took up the offertory of bread and wine after this and was the only person with cognitive disability my girls had the opportunity to associate with on a regular basis. Her web of relationships were achieved without special assistance or a support worker, but as part of a community that tends towards including and looking after its own.
Minister Pru Goward, who decided to evict every single social housing tenant, stated that residents would be helped to reintegrate, but May was forgotten as the eviction officer sold the potential benefits to the rest of the family, giving little recognition to what May lost.
May’s valued roles and relationships will be hard to replicate. It will take time, trust and tenacity. Is Housing NSW bending over backwards to compensate for this loss? Are they helping to ensure ‘May’ is truly included in her new community like she was in her old?
No, not at all. Despite promises, it’s not something they actually do, in a department that has lost sight of the contribution that social housing can make to the whole community.
So little, or no, thought at all is being given to what is a drastic loss for a young woman at great risk of further marginalisation. Another web of vital community shredded around a vulnerable person. Plus, my children and others miss out on the only contact they had with someone with disability, who has much to teach those who’ll listen.
My girls are already seeing those in social housing as negatively different, thanks to the demonisation by the media and state government. Our community is being leached of the social history holders, positive working class role models, elders and the potential to maintain positive relationships across the social divide.
This is in an area where fifty percent of residents move every three years. We are losing the sense of safety that comes with having longterm, contributing residents who are committed to the place.
This is the dubious privilege of living in an enclave for the wealthy.
May said they would come back to visit but they haven’t – they live a long way away especially by public transport.
I miss her welcome and the gentling effect she has on others very much.