For the first time in more than three years, Tania Hadzig has a positive vision of her future.
The offer of safe and secure accommodation and a place to call home was a turning point for the 30-year-old who has been homeless for the past two-and-a-half-years.
Tania is now living at medium term accommodation provider McAuley House, a new service in Ballarat to support women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness on their journey to recovery.
Since moving in to the house on Victoria Street in April, safe and secure housing with a support network of staff is giving her the space and resources she needs to get her life on track.
I don't think I really saw much of a future for myself.Tania Hadzig
Tania is now into her second trimester of a Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing which she is studying online with Deakin University and hoping to complete with the help of a scholarship by the end of the year.
She is sharing her story as a message of hope to other women to not give up, while raising awareness of the complex issues contributing to homelessness.
Tania grew up in Dimboola, a small town north of Horsham with her mum, step-dad, two older brothers and a younger sister.
She described it as a rough and socially isolated childhood with family violence and not mch engagement in the town.
"School was my saviour," Tania said.
"The only thing I really enjoyed doing was going to school. I always wanted to be a teacher as long as I can remember. My siblings were always my students growing up. As they got older they started paying me to do their homework."
After completing year 12, Tania moved to Bendigo and spent the next four years completing a Bachelor of Education at LaTrobe University. Her first teaching job was at her old secondary college in Dimboola, before spending two years teaching at Charlton College and two-and-a-half years at St Arnaud Secondary College.
Stress build up, combined with mental health issues and alcohol abuse lead to a suspension from teaching by the Department of Education.
"The stress and everything had gotten to me by that point," Tania said.
"I was drinking a lot and relying on prescription medication. They found out I was drinking at school during the day and then I just started not turning up to work."
Tania moved to Geelong to live with her sister before living in a share house. It was after making friends with the 'wrong crowd' that her drug and alcohol addiction worsened. Spending all of her money on drugs and alcohol and not leaving anything to pay rent lead to an eviction from the share house. That was the beginning of Tania's experience of homelessness.
With no where else to go and no help offered by crisis support services, she was told to find somewhere safe to park and sleep in her car.
"I don't think I really saw much of a future for myself," Tania said.
I drank so I didn't have to think about anything else.Tania Hadzig
"I guess at the time all I really cared about was how I was going to get alcohol, where the money was going to come from and when my next drink was going to be. I had stopped caring about anything else really. I had pushed all my family away by that point.
"I drank so I didn't have to think about anything else. I slept on and off and had a knife with me at all times out of fear of being in my car.
"It got to the point where I had spent all my money and didn't have any left to buy alcohol, so I did an armed robbery at a bottle shop in Geelong."
Tania was arrested and imprisoned for a few days before it was decided she was too mentally unwell to remain there. She was on bail for more than 12 months in Ballarat living with her brother's ex-partner, then her brother, then at short-stay accommodation provided by Berry Street.
The court sentenced her to a 12 month Community Corrections Order and no jail time due to severe mental health concerns.
Tania said the mental health pressure had been building for years.
"I never really recovered from getting suspended from teaching," she said.
"My entire life was teaching so having that cut off, I was pretty lost.
"Having to rely on family after being so independent my whole life, then having to rely on other people was really hard. I became a lot more depressed and was in and out of the psychiatric hospital in Geelong constantly. There had been several suicide attempts.
"I didn't have the mental health support I needed. I got pushed around from one worker to another and was never able to form a bond with any of them. They didn't really know what to do with me. They kept saying 'you were a teacher once upon a time, you'll be fine'."
While now on a more positive path, Tania's journey continues to be challenging as she experiences ups and downs in her mental health.
But she said the biggest change that has helped her get her life back on track has been secure housing and increased support.
She said McAuley House offered so much more than secure housing. It provided a support network with staff in-house during working hours, a social network and a sense of safety that allowed a positive view of the future.
McAuley House Ballarat opened in February this year as an extension of McAuley Community Services for Women that is based in Footscray, offering individually decorated bedrooms with an en-suite and shared kitchen and dining area for seven women.
The Ballarat site is McAuley's first service based outside of Melbourne, an opportunity that came about when the Sisters of Mercy vacated their property that was a good fit to provide a response to the increasing demand for homelessness support in Ballarat.
McAuley House Ballarat offers an integrated support model for women who have experienced homelessness and family violence to take control of their lives, with a focus on addressing trauma, mental and physical health issues and financial disadvantage.
We want to make sure women who are unwell, become well and are supported to move out.Jocelyn Bignold, McAuley House
McAuley House chief executive Jocelyn Bignold said the McAuley approach put each women at the centre of support working to wrap around services to meet individual needs.
"We want to make sure women who are unwell, become well and are supported to move out," she said.
"Many women are saying they need this period of rest and recovery for themselves so they can make good decisions when they leave the house. They need this temporary space to get their own strength back."
On Census night in 2011, 44 per cent of people experiencing homelessness were women. Each year one in 42 women aged 15 to 24 will access a specialist homelessness service.
Domestic and family violence is the number one reason why people present to specialist homeless services.
Young women may be particularly vulnerable to housing insecurity and homelessness as a result of mental illness, according to Homelessness Australia.
Women with disabilities are over-represented in the main factors that increase the risk of homelessness.
Ms Bignold says McAuley House aims to meet women's needs when they need them met, as often most services don't meet up at the point of need.
"There is no point referring to a service that in six months time will be able to see a woman for their mental health. That is when she is going to deteriorate and possibly become homeless," she said.
McAuley Community Services for Women made a submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System recommending the commission incorporate a broad view of the range of community supports that are needed rather than focusing on clinical mental health provision.
"There is a general lack of understanding of what community mental health support is. McAuley Community Services for Women is not classified as a clinical mental health service, yet a focus on mental well-being is at the core of everything we do," the submission read.
The submission recommended investment in safe, secure, affordable and available housing, training to increase professional knowledge of inter-relatedness between family violence, homelessness and mental health and additional mental health facilities including more provision for regional and rural areas.
Tania said she would likely be able to tell a different story about her life had she received effective mental health support and been able to find stable accommodation sooner.
"I was quite depressed and really unwell so I think had I have gotten some proper support at the time things might have been quite a bit different now," she said.
The number of homeless people in Australia jumped by more than 14,000 - or 14 per cent - in the five years to 2016, Census data shows.
Ms Bignold said long-term prevention of homelessness needed to focus on an increase to the rate of Newstart, public housing investment, a national affordable housing strategy and mental health investment.
"People need capacity to pay rent," she said.
"The only options really for people are private home ownership or private rental and both are proving outside the scope of people's incomes. Then of course we need the mental health system to function well."
Like Tania, McAuley House Ballarat senior worker Samantha Duncan believes accommodation and a sense of support was the turning point for many women who have experienced homelessness and trauma.
"When people feel safe and secure they start to grow," she said.
"With a bit of nurture and care people really start to blossom, open up and reach some of their goals," she said.
When people feel safe and secure they start to grow.Samantha Duncan, McAuley House
Tania said there needed to be more services like McAuley House.
"The other thing needed is better mental health support. That really wasn't good enough for me," she said.
In the long-term McAuley House Ballarat is working with Mercy Place Ballarat to create opportunities for residents.
Staff are also working with City of Ballarat to establish secure affordable and accessible housing for residents to move in to after they leave McAuley House.
Tania's focus now is on completing her studies and getting herself well while also building her skills with volunteer work at Mercy Place.
Living at McAuley House will enable her to continue that focus and reach her goals.
"Now I am starting to see a future for myself. I am able to start planning ahead and thinking about my career," she said.
"At the moment even to think about going out and renting a house means I have to get a job on top of studying and that is not really realistic for me at the moment.
"Living here does take the pressure off so I can focus on one thing at a time. Once I am finished my course and have a job and am feeling more mentally stable then I can worry about getting my own accommodation."
Tania's message to other women who are struggling is to not give up.
"I tried to give up so many times and it kept making my journey even harder and the recovery even longer.
"Reach out and accept other people's help. I tried to do it by myself for so long. I wanted to keep that independence and was too stubborn to reach out and ask for help. I probably could have got help before living in my car but I was too proud to ask. I am learning now there are people who genuinely do want to help and they can help, so let people in."
Homelessness Week is recognised across Australia this week with the theme 'Housing Ends Homelessness'.
1800Respect is Australia's national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service, 1800 737 732.
Phone 1800 825 955 to speak with a housing and support worker in Victoria.