It was the passing of *Bianca’s mother that left her and her son homeless for a fortnight just over two years ago.

“I went to different organisations, but because I was still working, they put me in a hotel in Ballina, and I had to pay for that. After not long, I had to go down to a lower standard; I couldn’t afford it. I slept in my car for two days.”

“I was then given a share-house to live in. I converted the one-bedroom I had into two, as I had my son with me. But it was bad for my son, with some of the people in the share house on drugs or needing mental support,” shares Bianca.

After seeing an advertisement for affordable housing on social media, Bianca didn’t think she’d qualify. She visited BaptistCare’s community housing in Lismore, and as a single mum working on a low income, she was offered the unit.

“It was brand new, comfortable, open. You could breathe. Close to the shops and the hospital. And I could trust the people around me. My son could walk to school without feeling unsafe.”

Bianca is thrilled with her affordable housing unit, which she has lived in for just over two years. As much as she wouldn’t be without her home, it’s the wrap-around support, friendship and care that she gets from the BaptistCare Garimaleh Place team that she is most grateful for.

“Without Jess or Chris, I would be on the street,” she says.

Bianca also shared her story with The Guardian recently, which you can read here.

Jess, BaptistCare’s Tailored Support Coordinator in the Northern Rivers, comes alongside tenants and works alongside them to unpack their goals and dreams, supporting them through the many and necessary practical steps.

“Much of the work we do together is around building independence and confidence. Some of our tenants have had some complicated circumstances to navigate, not through any fault of their own. Their challenges can really make holding down employment, or housing, really difficult.”

“There are a lot of hurdles in daily life that just makes things so hard for people who may be experiencing loss and grief, trauma from domestic violence, or even for seniors who have health concerns and who have no one.”

Jess works with tenants to help them access and work through Centrelink documentation, supports with interviews and job applications, refers and connects tenants to health, counselling and other wellbeing services, including in-home care for seniors or finding childcare for single parents.

Once in BaptistCare’s affordable housing, Bianca lost her part-time job as a Disability Support Worker in November 2020 due to the fall out of the COVID-19 pandemic but has since picked up two casual roles.

“Chris helped me get another job, helped me find babysitting - I didn’t know where to start. I had to do a 10-hour shift; they got the ball rolling, he had that connection.”

“When I talk to Jess or Chris, it’s more like a friend. They actually understand, and we find a way around things. When I couldn’t pay the rent, or I could only pay half, BaptistCare saw it as an opportunity to help me. It’s more than just real estate. Landlords and real estate agents don’t care. BaptistCare sees people for who they are, not for the money,” explains Bianca.

Jess agrees that BaptistCare’s community housing is a model unlike any other.

“That’s where myself and our Housing team really make a difference – where people are at, with some simple assistance, right through to equipping tenants to enter the private rental market if it becomes possible. Of course, in the Northern Rivers, that’s currently impossible with private rentals in high demand, unaffordable, and unstable housing or homelessness become the new normal.”

Bianca only wishes more housing was available to meet the need for single-parents like her and counts herself and her son as one of the lucky ones.

“Housing is a basic human right. People will be happier and not in depression mode like I was. You think family is there for you, organisations are there to help you, but they just want to know your situation and put you in a category like you’re a piece of paper.”

“I’ve signed a six lease here. I’m so happy with myself now. I have confidence in myself; we’re ok. In two years here, I’ve done more qualifications, I’ve got good jobs. I moved to Lismore with nothing, but I’ve made friends with my neighbours, and I have elders as friends. I’m not being judged here. It’s good,” smiles Bianca.

BaptistCare operates two community housing locations in the Northern Rivers - Garimaleh Place and Illowra Place - providing 81 social and affordable units in the region for seniors and single-parent families.