Almost three weeks ago Rachael received a call from Uniting worker Ayden McMahon who told her she had been approved for a home through the new Homelessness To A Home program.
She cried, from disbelief, shock and pure joy that she could begin to imagine a future for herself for the first time in more than five years.
Rachael, 23, has been homeless since her mother kicked her out of the family home at 18.
Just knowing I am going to have a place that is mine, a place to call home, a place that is safe, honestly meant the world to me.Rachael
She has couch surfed, stayed in temporary accommodation, crisis accommodation and moved from house to house, at least 26 times in the past few years.
"I have always been homeless or couch surfing or in Reid's and never really had a place to call home," she said.
"I have lived with people in the past which didn't work out. I would move in with partners and most of those relationships turned into domestic abuse.
"Just knowing I am going to have a place that is mine, a place to call home, a place that is safe, honestly meant the world to me."
Uniting Ballarat is delivering new state-government funded housing program Homelessness To A Home in partnership with CatholicCare for the Central Highlands, Wimmera and South West.
Rachael is one of 74 people and families that will be placed in long-term housing and provided ongoing support through the program.
Uniting Street 2 Home worker Ayden McMahon said it was "amazing being able to tell someone they have a home, especially when they have been fighting for years".
Rachael first got in touch with Uniting the day she got off the plane and returned to Ballarat from Queensland after living with her dad.
With nowhere to live, she was supported to stay in Uniting managed budget hotel accommodation Reid's Guest House.
"Once you are in Reid's you are kind of stuck, there is nowhere after that," Rachael said.
"About a month or two after I got linked in with Berry Street in their youth section. They put me in a transitional housing property in Wendouree, which was good but there was no plan for after."
Uniting Ballarat has long reported backlogs in transitional housing due to a lack of social housing to move people into and a shortage of affordable rental properties for low-income earners.
From transitional housing, Rachael moved to youth accommodation, to live with partners, to a drug detox facility, back to Reid's, to a friend's, to a hotel and the cycle continued.
Moves were driven by relationship breakdowns, family violence and financial difficulty. She has been on Youth Allowance and now JobSeeker payments.
Rachael said she had experienced mental health issues, was a victim of significant family violence and had suffered drug and alcohol addition throughout the past few years.
She said she had been clean from drugs for a year now and having a long-term place to call home, without a deadline or a move out date, would provide the stability needed to look after her well-being, save for a car and apply for jobs.
To be eligible for the Homelessness To A Home program, people must have been placed into crisis accommodation in hotels and motels from March to December 2020 and have a history of rough sleeping or chronic homelessness.
The state government is supplying 15 current social housing properties and is purchasing 18 properties from the private market.
Ten properties have already been purchased with many settlements coming up in April.
Uniting is committed to supplying 35 properties, some that are existing properties and the others through new head leasing arrangements.
Head leasing means the organisation signs the lease with the real estate agent and the client signs the lease through Uniting.
RELATED COVERAGE: Homelessness doubles due to fallout from coronavirus pandemic
The tenant pays 25 per cent of their income as rent and the program makes up the difference.
Once a person or family is placed into a property, intensive support continues for between 12 to 18 months.
The support workers help clients reintegrate into the community, develop independent living skills, provide mental health, alcohol and other drug support and help with linking into the education system.
There are 64 housing packages for singles, seven for two bedroom properties, two for three bedroom properties and one for four bedroom properties.
This addresses the high numbers of single people placed in hotels and motels.
All 74 people must be placed into housing by the end of June.
RELATED COVERAGE: Return to lockdown reduces options for people experiencing homelessness
For Rachael, securing a home through Homelessness To A Home is the first time she will have a place to call her own without a time limit for her to be out.
"Before, I had basically given up. I thought life wasn't going to get any better. It never had for me," she said.
"I think I might have been wrong. I was so convinced nothing would get better. Now I have my mental health in check, I am not using drugs or alcohol, I am looking after myself, life has just gotten so much better.
"Stability will definitely make it easier. The fact I have my Ps will also make it easier and it will get a lot more easier when I get a car.
"I am grateful for all the organisations that have helped me along the way, Headspace, Uniting, CatholicCare.
"This program has changed my life for the better."
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