A home for low-risk sufferers of mental illness has not been well received by Greenhithe neighbours, writes Rebecca Blithe reports.
The real estate flyer reads "Family and friends will love to relax here and enjoy the quiet surrounds". But, for an Auckland couple, moving to tranquil Greenhithe has been anything but relaxing.
"This is our dream home," says Mrs Smith*. Since moving in, the pair say they have been living a nightmare.
"The first day we moved in, my husband was approached by a man asking for a cigarette. He told him he doesn't smoke. We then noticed the man spent a good part of the afternoon picking up cigarette butts out by the bus stop. Another man came up to me on the driveway and told me he had life-long mental problems.
"On one occasion there was a man in the grounds of the facility screaming and they took him inside and closed the curtains and doors, but we could still hear him. It became obvious there was something going on next door."
The couple say several neighbours approached them, asking about the mystery household next door.
"So we went round to introduce ourselves and two staff members told us it was a respite centre.
"We asked for the manager's number and invited them over. We met in our house."
At this meeting, the Challenge Trust managers informed the couple that the house is known as "The Bach". It is one of 25 respite care homes in Auckland and caters to young people aged 16 to 25 suffering from low-risk mental illnesses.
"After the meeting we were in shock."
Challenge Trust chief executive Clive Plucknett says the home opened in February and the then-neighbours were advised.
They moved out without passing that information to the new buyers.
Following the meeting, the couple were troubled by the home leaving lights on all night and went next door to ask if they could be turned off.
"In a situation like that you should be able to go and ask neighbours to turn lights off. They served us with a trespass notice."
Mr Plucknett says the notice was issued because the trust was concerned for its clients.
"They were being abusive and badgering staff a lot. Questioning staff all the time. We feared for our clients."
The couple say they visited the home a total of three times and are fearful for themselves. "I think there is an underlying fear with everyone. We feel threatened.
"Consequently, we've placed the house on the market. Perhaps an investor will buy it. We doubt any family would want to live here. If we had been told, we wouldn't have bought this property," says Mrs Smith. "It has had an effect on our health. I've been prescribed temporary sleeping tablets."
Mr Plucknett says the behaviour of the clients as described by the couple is typical of "normal teenage boys" who have the usual testing of the boundaries tendencies. "Being noisy and searching for cigarette butts has very little to do with mental illness. These are people that are not in the category of having to be controlled. They are safe to be in the community. Staff are available and around at all times."
He says there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness. "That some residents have expressed dismay is not surprising, and is an indication of the continuing stigmatisation of mental illness.
"Research and practical experience shows that, in many cases, to remove people from society by institutionalising them is not the most successful course of action and, in fact, can exacerbate the problems of those at the less severe end of the spectrum."
* The couple requested their names not be published.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements says attitudes are improving towards integrating people with mental illness into communities.
"We know this more inclusive attitude does exist because research for the Ministry of
Health's Like Minds, Like Mine programme shows 89 per cent of New Zealanders want to be as supportive as possible to people with mental illness.
"Part of this support includes allowing treatment to occur in natural environments where
people can begin their recovery journey without feeling singled out by their communities, of which they are fully entitled to be a part. A 2009 study, "The effectiveness of community care for people with severe mental disorders'', showed those receiving community care had an improvement in psychic state and a reduction in destructive behaviours.
It also mentions that "community care enables social inclusion through improving social functioning and subjective quality of life and sense of freedom ... especially important for our young people''.