Huddled in the front seat of car in remote bushland, Sandra* clutched her dog in her arms and wondered whether she would make it through the night.
For the next three years, Sandra would live the same lonely and harrowing nightmare daily.
After fleeing from a violent and dangerous ex-husband, Sandra would sleep in car, inside homelessness shelters and on the streets.
“When you are homeless you are so disaffected,” she said. “You’re invisible, you’re absolutely nothing.”
One night, after ex-partner found her hiding in her car, he used an iron bar to try and smash in the doors.
“The level of violence he projected meant I wasn’t safe and neither was anyone around me so it was impossible to stay with friends and family,” she said. “I had the rug pulled out from under me. He bankrupted me and he trashed me in every way possible.”
Sandra was hospitalised over the years for bouts of pneumonia and struggled to pay for her next meal.
“I would go to the supermarket, but I couldn’t have anything in there,” she said. “When you’re homeless it’s like you can see the world and everything out in front of you, but you can’t have any of it.”
Somehow, in the midst of it all, Sandra manged to complete her nursing degree.
“I didn’t look like an obvious homeless person,” she said. “I was well dressed, I showered where I could and I was well educated.”
She now works with homeless people in her role as Ballarat health professional. Sandra believes that every person is only a paycheck away from life on the streets.
“Homelessness can happen so quickly to anybody,” she said. “Homelessness is not what people think it is... it’s not that drunk derelict on the street. What we are finding now is that a lot of homeless people are women who are middle aged and have no superannuation.”
A dire housing shortage meant people could months waiting for stable accommodation. Sandra believed there was need for more innovative options for vulnerable people to connect with other isolated members of the community.
“There are elderly people in houses living alone who can’t pay their bills,” she said. “We need to somehow create a support network for all these people. All human-beings deserve a home.”
When you are homeless you’re invisible.Sandra, former Ballarat homeless woman
This month, the Halving Homelessness: Think Tank Ballarat forum will bring together people from all walks of life. The forum is the coinage of Leadership Ballarat and Western Region, Committee for Ballarat and UnitingCare Ballarat. The Halving Homelessness: Think Tank Ballarat will be held on August 18 at Housey Housey, 12 Armstrong Street North. Details: visit lbwr.org
*Sandra is not her real name
- Opinion: Only together we can tackle homelessness see page 30