How did I find myself facing imminent homelessness? It happened slowly, then all at once.


By Valerius83 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Author name withheld

How did I find myself facing imminent homelessness? It happened slowly, then all at once.

I never thought it could happen to me. Several years ago, I was a corporate executive: office overlooking Circular Quay, long lunches, incentive trips. But the good times ended as the economy soured, and the company folded. I’d always had a feeling that there had to be more to life than making money; that I wanted to do some good in the world. So I decided to go back to university and become a registered nurse.

Somewhere along the line my husband also lost his job, and returned to caring for our son full time; then we lost our house, and ended up moving in with his mother. The stress of living with the in-laws has ended better relationships than ours; we are separating, and I have to move out.

But I don’t have anywhere to go.

In the Sydney rental market, I can’t find anywhere I can afford to rent. It’s not a matter of being picky about what suburb I live in, or being willing to move further away from the CBD; on Austudy, I can’t afford to live anywhere, and I’ve searched suburbs I’ve never heard of, suburbs I’ve only heard of due to media coverage of the latest shooting, suburbs that aren’t suburbs at all but far-flung towns well beyond the city’s outskirts. I can’t afford to be anywhere. I can’t afford to be. There are no relatives I can stay with. Sharehouses aren’t an option, as I want my kid to stay over and I just don’t trust living with a stranger. I can just about afford a tiny “studio” – in reality a concrete box with a sink and toilet – way, way out of Sydney – but I still need to stump up a four figure sum for bond and moving expenses. And I just don’t have it.

Why don’t you get a job, they say. I’m trying my damndest, sending out resumes in between studying and spending time with my son. Thing is though, any job will take several weeks to go through the recruitment process, and then another few weeks for the first paycheque, and I’m told I need to leave this house now.

There are almost no options for financial help in this situation. I have a tidy sum of superannuation tucked away – but homelessness does not count as criteria for early release of super on the grounds of “financial hardship”. Microfinance and good shepherd loans are not available to cover bond and moving expenses. I don’t qualify for any other loans. I have nothing I can sell, no car to sell or live in.

It’s winter. All temporary and emergency accommodation is full. There are no beds available in any refuges or homeless shelters – now more than ever, thanks to the state government’s “Going Home, Staying Home” policies which have seen so many refuges stripped of funding. I’ve worked hard my whole life, I don’t smoke or use drugs or drink to excess, yet I could soon find myself living on the streets.

And I know I’m not the only one.  I used to wonder how, in our welfare state, people could still end up homeless. Now I know. A toxic combination of spiralling rental prices, cuts to homeless services, and a system that prevents me from accessing the money I worked for, means I’m about to end up with a sleeping bag and cardboard sign, in Belmore Park or Central Station. I never thought this could happen to me, but so many of us are one pay cheque, one rent or mortgage payment, away from disaster. My disaster is upon me, and it’s cold and lonely and scary.

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  1. Wow. This is such a horrible situation to be in. Perhaps you could start a campaign to help raise funds for your bond. I’ve seen lesser causes gain more than enough money than you would likely require. It might be a long shot, but perhaps if you sent that gofundme link to any friends and contacts from your previous job, they could read your story and chip in a little bit each to help get you back on your feet.

    • To do that you have to step over the threshold of pain, embarrassment and shame to tell people you know how dire your situation is. Easier said than done.

      • Surely some of those people would find out how dire the author’s situation anyway is if she ends up sleeping in Central Station with a cardboard sign. Seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Of course it can be extremely difficult, but I’m sure at least some of the author’s friends would help her out. What’s more important? A temporary feeling that most of your friends and acquaintances don’t know you’re living on the street, or having a warm place to live, a place that your son can come to visit you?

      • I think the writer is trying to tell us that this is a bigger problem than just one person. She’s saying this can happen to anybody. The solutions lie not in crowd funding but in big picture policy changes. Reduce housing costs, improve unemployment benefits, Austudy, fund emergency accommodation just a few.

      • I think the writer could die from exposure or violence by being homeless before big picture policy changes take place. Better to take steps to avoid the homelessness and then fight for the big picture policy changes.

      • jack zubrick says

        meanwhile.. over at the ATO.. they are negotiating sweetheart tax deals with google, ikea, apple, sundry pharma companies etc for whom paying company taxes is optional. thanks to the mining downturn Gina’s no longer richest woman in the world and has to get by on $15billion instead of $30b. Top end of town’s 1% owns 75% of the nations wealth and on it goes…

  2. I am only too aware of how easy it is…I have very nearly been there myself… is still possible. The thought of share housing with strangers is not the adventure it was at 19.

  3. Homelessness does qualify for a release of a limited amount. I had to access mine due to similar circumstances. Good luck.

  4. It’s a hard place. I’m a mature aged student studying at uni and without support I’d be where you are. I have established networks with some of the people I study with and I have long friendships that I treasure. Use your networks, speak up and make noise about the place you are in. There is no shame in where you are. The shame rests with the policy makers and our representatives that remain aware of the human cost our economic practises bring yet do nothing to address them.

  5. Hanging by a thread says

    If it wasn’t for my mother, I’d be on the streets now. I expect I probably will be soon anyway. A very similar situation, coupled with major depression and anxiety limit my options. I can’t work, I can’t get Newstart, and I have $51. I’d rather die than admit my situation to my friends.

    • If your friends would think bad of you for being in a bad situation and needing help, they really don’t deserve your friendship. I hope you keep hanging in, strike some luck and your situation improves :)

  6. Zoe Mynott says

    I think this is the perfect example of where we have ended up thanks to government cuts that are supposedly enacted to stop people taking advantage. What happens to the legitimate people (and there are many)? This is becoming more and more common, and unfortunately our society is being led by a government that would rather turn its back and not look at this. A government that is out of touch with reality, the type of people that would cross over the road rather than dealing with what is staring them in the face. It is a very sad state of affairs. This could happen to any one of us. We recently had to put our mortgage on hold when I had a cancer diagnosis. I would not have been able to put rent on hold. I was one of the lucky ones, and we are still trying to claw our way out of the hole.

  7. TechinBris says

    After years of Australia pandering to the likes of Rupert’s servants constantly demanding that we all follow his opinions to his utopia, I think we all know it is a crock of schite and need to rethink where we are for doing so.
    We need to ask ourselves what kind of Australia WE want to have, instead of the Australia we are told to be, by someone who doesn’t even want to be here, but somewhere else with different social values towards what it is to be civilised, like lying is ok if you make a profit and stuff anyone who is destroyed because of it.
    Our Nation once had values that we were proud of. But now we just another snake pit and very little of the promised economic prosperity has arrived to the average Australian, but dissappeared to somewhere we are told we are not to ask about.
    This story shows how we suffer the outcomes of unethical foriegn bussiness decisions, which have no care for the repercussions to any Society, because they only care about the individual, themselves, and stuff Society that created everything they utilise everyday. We abhor such, so why do we follow them? To become like them?
    Turn a new page everyone. Reject the Market’s selfish demands and reenergize that we put aside, our care for each other.
    We were actually doing ok, before we fell for their lie, otherwise the Markets would not have invested time and energy on us. It was not easy street (and it is worse now) but we all were mostly reasonably ok, before following Rupert’s demanded outcomes. Homeless had some shelter, we mostly were reasonably fed and we were humanely civilised. Nothing wrong with everyone sharing a burden, instead of just some having to carry it all, including the Fat Cats, as it is now.
    Time to finance our own investment in ourselves, instead of horrible, nasty and selfish people overseas who really don’t give a stuff about us at all, just the wealth they can con from us for themselves.

    • TechinBris says

      Our choice, for we will have to live with the consequences of that choice and this story shows what we now reap from the choice to follow neoliberal economic rationalism.
      There is another way everyone. A humane one. Learn to care again.
      To the one who wrote this, good luck. We took in a friend, who like you, needed shelter. We have no regrets in having done so. There is a joy in giving and not seeking profit from the investment. It is priceless, and doesn’t require a credit card. :D

  8. It’s madness that people on Austudy *automatically* do not qualify as being able to fall under ‘severe financial hardship’ … as if a student is somehow immune to financial hardship. This is especially galling when you consider that the government considers a full-time student to be ‘working’ forty hours a week, but for some reason is only willing to pay them well, well below minimum wage at $10.80 an hour.

    Sometimes I’ve felt as though the only option open to me was quitting my study for a semester and getting ‘Newstart’ (which has a much more comprehensive and supportive system of payments) and then switching back to study once I was back on my feet. Luckily it hasn’t come to that yet.

    Hopefully the writer manages to work her situation out.