When completing the census in 2011 the following question about being homeless threw me completely.
Have you been homeless in the past five years? – including time spent in refuges, shelters and other crisis accommodation – I am paraphrasing a bit here, but that it pretty much how it read, I think.
I had been homeless
This question literally took my breath away, because I had been in a shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence for three months and in a safe house for further nine months; just under five years prior to that census.
It may seem strange, I didn’t see my experience as homelessness. But I believe many people would not recognise this experience as homelessness. After all, I was never without a roof over my head and at the time my perception of homelessness was that only people living on the street or in their cars were homeless.
Crisis accommodation was safer than my own home
For me acknowledging this time as homelessness was difficult because I recognised maybe for the first time just how much my life had fallen apart. Living is in crisis accommodation was preferable to being in my own home.
I am not going to pretend it was easy or without its challenges but for me, it was the first time in my life I had felt safe and taken care off. I genuinely didn’t feel homeless.
I was being empowered for the first time in my life
Therein lies the rub, I felt safe because I had a roof over my head and food for myself and my children. There were people whose job was literally to help me rebuild the foundations of my life so I could build a new one.
I feel blessed to this day that I did not have to experience living on the streets or in a car with my children, I cannot even imagine how hard it is to endure that situation. It breaks my heart even to think about it.
My passion was born
The time I spent in crisis accommodation and penniless is when the seed of my passion for the work I do began. Life had dealt me many hard blows – many of them literal and I was broken, scared without much hope for the future.
My time at the shelter and the support I received in the years following gave me back not only my hope but my motivation for a better life. One where I would be free to make my own choices free from the constraints of either abuse or poverty.
Support and resources have declined
Being homeless due to fleeing an abusive relationship was for me 12 years ago, and the sad truth is there are now fewer beds in shelters and fewer resources allocated to domestic violence survivors escaping their abusive situations.
Financial viability plays a key role in improving outcomes for those subjected to abuse. Because without continuity of employment more will slip into homelessness. Employers play a key role in this. Work is not only the place where an income is made but often where a victim can maintain at part of the sense of who they are.
If we are to turn the tide on family violence we must all play out part:
Workplaces – need to provide support which will actually support and engage those impacted. With training, including how to understand the complexities of family violence, how to communicate and relate a safe environment where people will feel safe to disclose.
Businesses – Those who can help those customers affected can set up policies and procedures along with staff training, so they know how to support customers who are in financial hardship due to abuse.
During this time of crisis, some breathing space is needed. I was lucky to find that support and having the time to pay of debt in a manageable way, change my life and gave me a future.
Government – All levels of Government are in a position to make a positive difference through policy, funding, education, affordable housing and leading the way in comprehensive training for their own staff. Leading by example is a powerful thing.
Those left homeless and in poverty need our help because I know from experience it is a long and difficult road out. We cannot leave all the heavy lifting to the not for profit sector.
So, I ask of you what more can you and your organisation do?