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.