This is the first part of a Port News series which explores the impact of the housing crisis on residents and the response from mental health support groups.
Graham Lee knows what it's like to hit rock bottom and come through the other side.
Five years ago Graham was living a comfortable life at Bonny Hills.
He lost his home, his family and his business in just six weeks.
Graham is now living in permanent accommodation at a North Haven caravan park. He also runs his own business.
Graham tries to have a positive outlook but admits he still feels worried about the future, and potentially ending up back on the streets again.
"That mental anguish is there," he said.
There's also the rising cost of living, which is causing Graham's pocket to pinch.
It costs $200 for Graham to fill up his work van each week.
However, fuel is an essential item.
"You have to go where the work is," he said.
Graham has a strong support network who he credits with helping him through the tough times.
He also sees a psychologist once a month.
Graham said it's vital emergency accommodation is established in the Camden Haven.
He's been in contact with people who have come to the region and found there's nothing available for them.
Graham formed the Camden Haven Community at 3 to help others doing it tough.
The first group was established in the Camden Haven with a weekly barbecue in 2016. The event provides an opportunity for those in need to meet and then link to support.
The organisation estimates there are 23 people who are homeless in the Camden Haven, and 11 are sleeping in cars.
Mental health impact
Lifeline Mid Coast suicide prevention manager Kelly Saidey said being homeless can be a traumatic event and as a result, people can become worried if their environment does become unstable.
She said the issue is two-fold as becoming homeless can trigger a mental health illness, and people who have existing mental health issues often struggle to obtain accommodation.
The COVID-19 pandemic, rising cost of living, the housing crisis and natural disasters have contributed to people being diagnosed with mental health issues.
Relationship breakdowns are occurring but the housing crisis is making it difficult for people to separate.
"They end up couch surfing with family or friends," Kelly said.
It's also difficult for people to access certain support without a fixed address.
Kelly gave the example of people who have separated but one partner can't get access to their children because they don't have a fixed address.
"Being homeless, you're very cut off and isolated which increases [the likelihood to trigger] anxiety and mental health issues," she said.
Young people and economic instability
There has been an huge increase in the amount of young people presenting with a mental health issue, according to Port Macquarie headspace.
Clinical lead Alex Harris said on average they're receiving about 20 referrals each week.
"We all have a base level of needs...a roof over our heads, constant food and sense of safety," he said.
However, over the past two and a half years all those factors have been "thrown up into the air", Alex said.
Economic stability for young people has also been disrupted - due to the housing crisis.
"Their parents might not have been able to pay rent and they've been kicked out of their rentals," Alex said.
As a result they've had to move into a property with family or friends.
"There could be very tumultuous or tense relationships," Alex said.
Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental health issues young people are being diagnosed with.
"Over 60 per cent of young people that come to a health service like headspace do report some generalised social anxiety, as well as at least one major depressive episode within the past 12 months," he said.
Staff from headspace assess the young person to understand their life and identity.
They offer a number of programs to young people for education, skills and resilience in relation to mental health issues.
"Secure housing is critical"
Carmel Tebbutt is the CEO of Mental Health Coordinating Council.
The Mental Health Coordinating Council is the peak body for community managed mental health organisations in New South Wales.
The council hosted a May networking event in Port Macquarie for the area's mental health services.
While Carmel said the atmosphere in the room was positive, representatives from the organisations also voiced their concerns.
"There's no doubt they were saying the mental health service system is under strain," she said.
"They are dealing with significantly increased demand for their services."
The impact of the housing crisis, with high cost of rentals and demand for property was discussed at the event.
"Social determinants have a significant impact on people's health and wellbeing," Carmel said.
"Whether it be economic security, access to stable housing or a job.
"Those things are really important to how people feel about themselves and the world in which they're living."
Carmel emphasised secure housing is critical.
"Housing stress is a real issue in regional and rural NSW," she said.
Homelessness Week aims to raise awareness of the impact of homelessness and is on from August 1 until August 7.
Port Macquarie-Hastings Homelessness have launched a Gift Card Giving campaign.
During the week, members will visit locations in Port Macquarie, Wauchope and Laurieton to give a gift card to people doing it tough.
For more information about how to make a donation, please visit the Port Macquarie-Hastings Homelessness Facebook page, or call 6588 8100.
Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat to a Crisis Supporter at lifeline.org.au (7pm-midnight).
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