Transitory Tales - Stories of Homelessness in North Sydney

Transitory Tales is a creative project in recognition of Homelessness Week to help raise awareness of the issue of homelessness in the North Sydney area. People who have or are experiencing homelessness have shared their story with us. Their stories make us aware that homelessness can happen to anybody in our community and that people who have experienced homelessness are part of our community and have a contribution to make.

 

 

If you are experiencing homelessness or need assistance with housing please contact Council's Access and Inclusion Coordinator on 99368100 or council@northsydney.nsw.gov.au

 

 

 

Trepidation, Anxiety and Tension

 

I was born in South Africa, into a middle class family who had little or no sense of money management. As Whites, we were privileged and would never have thought of ourselves as poor. However, my father was declared bankrupt and when he died my Mother and I continued our modest yet comfortable lifestyle, thanks to my Uncle who lived with us.

 

I was a high school teacher, and I loved my work, but teachers were paid very poorly and I never had enough money to save for my future. My parents did not encourage savings and I learned my lesson about saving very late in life. When my Mother died, there was little for her to leave as an inheritance and I continued to live frugally but again, would never have thought of myself as poor. I never married and so I have always been my own breadwinner.

 

I immigrated to Australia when I was in my early 40s and continued teaching. In 1989, teachers’ salaries were abysmal and I took on a second job, as a waitress for a small catering firm and for seven years, I worked six and sometimes seven days a week to be able to pay the rent. Now, for the first time, I thought of myself as poor. However, I was always able to pay the rent and always had a roof over my head.

 

In 1996, I moved into a lovely one-bedroom flat in Cammeray and although the rent was high in relation to my salary, I was very happy and made the place my home. The owner lived overseas and was happy to keep me on as a tenant as I was looking after his place so well. Then, in 2008, there was a rental shortage in Sydney; the rental market plunged to 1% vacancy rate. It was a good time to sell and that’s what my landlord did. He gave me 60 days to move out. I was devastated but had to start looking for a new place to live. Owner investors were on to a good thing and the rental prices shot up to unaffordable-for-me prices. Whenever there were inspections of flats, there were dozens of people vying for the same place. Some people had double deposits, in cash, in their hands to entice the agent to give them the property. I couldn’t compete. At the same time that the rentals were becoming scarce and more expensive, I was getting older and needed to teach part-time. It was then I realised what a precarious position I was in.

 

The days were racing by and I still hadn’t found a new place to live. A friend told me that her divorced sister had a spare room in her unit (which she had inherited from her mother) and would take me as her boarder as she needed the extra money. I was desperate so I agreed to live there even though I really didn’t want to share. I am a very independent person and quite private so it took me a long time to get used to this new way of living. I went into this situation blindly and agreed to halve all costs. There was no formal arrangement made and as the years passed, I realised that I had become a ‘cash cow’ to my landlady.

 

I was totally caught in a situation that seemed to have no solution. I could not afford the market rental prices and the place I was in was no longer a home. The atmosphere turned tense and ugly and the shared costs kept going up. Resentment has crept in and it is very difficult to cope with. Finally, last year, someone suggested I contact North Sydney Council, which I did. I am hoping to be offered a place of my own in the near future and that has been a lifesaver. I had never thought of myself as homeless until it was too late!  I have lived in trepidation, anxiety and tension for a long time now but I know that all will be well once I can be my own person again.

 

Whenever I teach Year 12s, in my final lesson with them, I advise them to save from the day they start working, especially the girls, and I also tell them to scrap any idea of a vast wedding and to take the money and use it as a deposit on a home instead.

 

 
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I’m Still Here, I’m Still Alive

 

I’ve always been a private person and haven’t told many people my story.

When I was 19 years old, I moved to London from the North of England and worked in a bank. We were given money to return home to our families on the weekend, but sometimes I stayed in London and went to the theatre in the West End instead. London opened my eyes and made me curious about the world, so when I was 21 I decided to move to Australia and see what the other side of the world had to offer.

I’m a bit of a gypsy and have always been curious about life and the world. I spent a year living in Canada and another year living in America. I also spent a couple of years working as a hostess for an international airline. I had to give it up when I got married; in those days you had to. I was only married for a few years before going through a distressing divorce.

In the early 1990s I had a head on car accident. I don’t remember anything. My first recollection was waking up in hospital vomitting. My injuries included a T12 compression fracture, a fractured sternum, a fractured wrist, fractured ribs, a fractured nose, multiple broken teeth, internal bleeding and concussion. It took me years to recover. As a result I suffered from depression and anxiety for a couple of years. I still suffer from claustrophobia and I hate lifts. My dentist is on the seventh floor and I will take the lift up but will always walk down the seven flights of stairs.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. I had three months of chemotherapy followed by seven weeks of radiotherapy and another three months of chemotherapy. It was hard but I had a great rapport with my doctors and they kept me going. I didn’t tell my family about the breast cancer until two years after I was diagnosed. I didn’t want to worry them and they were so far away there was nothing they could do. As a result of the breast cancer I had 27 lymph nodes removed. I now have lymphadeama and have to wear a compression sleeve on my left arm. If I don’t wear the sleeve my arm would be twice the size. You’ve just got to think positive. I always tell myself ‘I’m still here, I’m still alive’.

In the late 90s I was renting my own place in Neutral Bay. In those days the rent was affordable. My family were all still living in England.  My mum became ill and my sister was diagnosed with cervical cancer so I gave away my furniture and returned to England to be with them. I was there for a year before returning to Australia. When I came back I moved into a boarding house in Kirribilli because I couldn’t afford the rent anymore. I thought I would be there for a few weeks but I still haven’t found a place I can call my home.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can cook in my own kitchen whenever it suits me.

 

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Never give up, always believe in yourself and remember it is okay to not be okay

 

I am 16 years old.  I first became homeless when I was 12. I lived with my Mum in a small town. We never got along and were always fighting. I remember going to school one day in my pyjamas with no shoes and my hair was a mess. My teacher pulled me aside and asked me why I turned up like this. I told her I was kicked out of home. I was put into foster care but I ran away. I didn't want to be in care because of the rumours I’d heard. I tried all day to try and find somewhere to stay. I had no friends or family. I was alone. I walked down to the park near my Mum’s house and I decided that was where I was going to stay. I stayed there overnight wandering the streets trying to scrape up money for food. It was then that I started to steal.

 

I was scared and I didn't know what to do. I kept trying to get someone I knew to let me stay with them. No one cared and I was left alone. I started to resort to drugs and self harm to get me through. I had nothing. I started debating life. I thought there was no point in living if I didn't have anything or anyone. This went on for the next three years - parks, toilet blocks, abandoned places became my home. I then decided to go to the local Police to try and get the last bit of hope I had left. They helped me apply for refuges, but it was very hard, as most of them wouldn’t accept me due to my self harm and drug addiction. I gave up hope. I then started to abuse people and cause trouble. I got locked up in November 2015. That was a big wake up call for me. I decided when I got out I would start fresh. One of the refuges I applied for rung me and said they were willing to give me a chance. I recently moved from a youth refuge in Nowra to a youth refuge in Sydney.

 

Now that I've moved to a new town I'm doing things to make a fresh start and have the life I've always wanted. I'm in drug and alcohol counselling and have been clean from drugs for three months. I see a psychiatrist twice a week to discuss ways of coping when things get tough. I've used my hope and determination to enrol back into school to finish year 11 and 12. I also attend TAFE two days a week to fulfil my dream of becoming a child care worker, which is my way of having the childhood I've never had. To maintain a sense of responsibility and purpose I'm applying for jobs at cafes while I'm doing some volunteer work.

 

As hard as being homeless and alone was, I've used what I've been through to make a difference. I'm in a much more positive mindset then I've ever been in. Instead of living by the motto “I will do what I want when I want and to hell with the consequences”, I now have three main rules I live by: Never give up, always believe in yourself and remember its okay to not be okay. Homelessness was one the hardest battles I faced but I'm glad I went through it as it’s made me who I am today.

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‘Friends are the most important part of life’

 

I lived in a very unsafe and abusive household. Eventually I moved out to a few different refuges and shelters specifically for young people. They look like normal houses from the street, but they have workers in there 24/7 helping you learn life skills. You can only stay in these places for up to three months so there's no real stability - your friends could be kicked out or moved on the next day and the cops could bring someone in at anytime.

 

The most important part of my life while I was homeless was my friends - they were honestly an incredible support.

 

I definitely had this sense of anger and passion. I wanted so desperately to make it in this world so that I could show other young people that it's possible for them to achieve greatness. I wanted to devote my life to making sure no one else would ever feel so worthless and thrown around again.

 

I think the most important thing for people to recognise is that people become homeless for a variety of reasons and it could happen to anyone. At the core of the issue is how it is a kind of complex trauma that diminishes your sense of self worth and stability in the world. It's never just about the lack of a roof over your head, but it definitely contributes to the issue. It's so important to look beyond the surface.

 

 

 
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20 years since I had a washing machine

 

I grew up around this area and lived with my Dad until 1988. He had a stroke and died, and I couldn’t afford to pay the rent so I started living in caves I had discovered with my friends when I was in primary school. That’s how I got my nickname. I spent about ten years living in the caves and had to move when the first one got washed out. I saved up $5,500 and bought myself a sailing boat; I could live on the boat and it didn’t matter if I didn’t like my neighbours.

 

I taught myself to sail when I was with my ex-girlfriend. Her brother had a 12-foot skipper he let me use and that’s how I learnt to sail. When I was living on the boat I got ‘Wow Wow’ - a Burmese cross with Russian Blue cat. She was a rescue cat I got from the vet. Wow Wow absolutely loved living on the boat. She could do whatever she wanted.

 

When I was living on the boat I went to TAFE and got my Certificate in Maritime Operations. I got dobbed into Maritime for living on the boat and they were all over me like a rash. They said they were going to impound the boat so I abandoned it. I had no other choice. That’s when I started sleeping rough. I was couch surfing and sleeping in parks. Lucky for me I had a friend who agreed to look after Wow Wow because there was no way I could keep her safe. In November last year I got offered a place to live. It’s a one bedroom unit with my own furniture. It’s been 20 years since I’ve had a washing machine. Having my own place makes me feel on top of the world.

 
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Acknowledgments

This project would not have been possible without the people who openly shared their stories and experiences. These stories demonstrate courage, strength and resilience and we hope they will impact many lives and highlight the importance of addressing homelessness now and in the future. 

 

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