What would you do if you found yourself homeless?
The past 12 months I have done a lot of work with the homeless and it has been truly eye opening. Homelessness impacts on everyone and anyone can end up homeless. I’ve been homeless, twice. Both times I had my daughters and fortunately we weren’t ‘rough sleepers’. I slept in a friends garage from November 2009 to January 2010 and in March 2013 we slept on a friends lounge for a while after my ex husband caused more issues.
In 2009 I didn’t actually know I was homeless. I knew we were pretty close to it, but because we weren’t officially on the streets, I didn’t think we were. My now ex husband and I were separated. We couldn’t afford 2 rentals, so I moved out with my daughters to a friends garage. It had a room we slept in with a bed and a cot. My daughters were 2 years old and 9 months old. I had a key to the main house to use for the bathroom and I used the kitchen to cook for us.
I felt like a total failure as a mum. I knew our situation was bad and most people just thought I hung out at my friends house all the time. It was embarrassing for people to know I was sleeping in the garage, so I kept it quiet. I had no idea the amount of help I would have been eligible for through various charities. My own church would have helped a lot, I just never asked. Instead, we had a small Christmas, I felt like a loser and was just really grateful my children were too young to know any different.
I started my blog, Aspiring Millionaire in 2009, just before becoming homeless. That was quite a blow to my self-esteem and my goal. I was determined to keep going though.
Fast forward to March 2013 and I was homeless again. November 2012 saw me leave my home due to domestic violence and severe stalking, a week later I was robbed of all my personal belongings right down to my underwear, December I was raped in that home and in January I moved again. My ex caused numerous issues (not the robbery or rape) and was charged with breaching the AVO in March 2013, but it was too late.
My daughters had their lives disrupted so much. We couldn’t live in our house out of fear of him and thankfully a friend let us stay on her lounge. She tried to help us get into a refuge and get some assistance, but my situation made it extremely difficult.
At the end of June 2013, I was finally able to move back to Canberra and settle here. It was then that I added up how many homes my kids had lived in and just how unsettled their short lives had been. My eldest, not even 6 years old had moved 12 times, as well as frequenting Canberra and staying with family here. Some of those moves were back to places we had previously lived, but that doesn’t change the fact she has had an extremely disrupted life.
The biggest mistake I made with my homeless experience was hiding. I was so ashamed. I had won Best International Personal Finance Blog in 2012, months before being classed as homeless. I was speaking publicly on ways to make and save money, doing mentoring sessions and yet, due to circumstances outside my control, I was homeless. I felt I couldn’t ask for help from charities because of my work. I was ashamed and thought no one would work with me if they knew. I have been very open about my experiences since, but at the time I was terrified.
If you become homeless or are at risk of it, do NOT be too proud to ask for help.
That’s what charities are there for. They would rather help you before you end up on the streets. Tell your friends and family you are struggling and let them help. For the most part, people want to help each other. I should have reached out for more help than I did but I was too proud and didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. “My work revolves around finances, I should fix this myself” was my attitude.
How and where to get help if you are homeless or at risk of homelessness
1.) Contact Centrelink
(if you are in Australia, if you live in another country, go to your relevant government section). You need to apply as soon as your circumstances change to get payments happening as soon as possible. There are pensions, rent assistance, a health care or pension card, discounts and more.
2.) Contact charities
You can get help such as food, bills paid, hampers, furniture and more. Check what ones are in your area and talk to them about what assistance they can give you.
3.) Utilise your pension/health care card
I share lots of ways, plus links for each state here. I had no idea there was so much available.
4.) Check all the assistance you might be eligible for
This post covers assistance for single and low income families.
5.) Apply for housing asap
If you are eligible for it apply as soon as you can. The wait lists are very long, depending on where you live and your situation.
6.) Take care of yourself
This is really difficult to do when your life is falling apart, but it is essential. Get counselling for any issues you might have, it is a traumatic event to become homeless and is often a cycle with people going in and out of homelessness throughout their lives. Getting the right help can help you break that cycle.
On top of counselling, try to sleep and make sure you eat. Look for the free food in your area, which charities provide it, where the ‘soup’ kitchens are and so on. Also, most ‘soup’ kitchens don’t just serve soup, they serve proper meals and have more help available than just the one meal.
7.) Don’t pressure yourself
Many people become homeless through circumstances outside their control. Getting back on your feet can be really hard, but there are lots of services out there to help you. Don’t pressure yourself to do anything you aren’t ready to do. Don’t berate yourself over your situation. Try to look for something positive every day and follow the advice from those in positions to help.
8.) Accept help
Knowing what you are eligible for and what assistance there is for you is one thing, accepting that help is completely different. You are not any less of a person if you accept help.
9.) Do what you can to improve your situation
Whether it be staying with family for a while as you sort things out, going to a charity to get clothing for a new job or interview, going back to school or volunteering to get some experience to get employment or to be eligible for a government payment. Whatever it is that you can do, do it. I have written about how to get money to leave an abusive relationship and ways to make money while living on Centrelink, both these should help.
I have interviewed quite a few people who were once homeless and are now successful business owners. Most lived on the streets, a few were a result of domestic violence, some were bad business choices, others divorce, drugs and some were homeless as children. How your situation turns out is determined by your attitude towards it.
A common theme I noticed when interviewing these people was their attitude. They refused to give up. They continued to believe in themselves and worked on improving their lives. They continued their education, changed their mindset and refused to dwell on the negatives of their situation.
As hard as it was to experience homelessness, as lost as I felt and as big a failure as I felt, I refused to give up. I got counselling, I saved and looked for ways to make more money. I continually looked at how I could improve my life, whilst still being grateful for what I had. I did not want my daughters to know how bad things were or for this to be our lives long term.
I don’t ever expect to be homeless again, but I am very passionate about helping the homeless. I have done a few sleepouts including the CEO sleepout, Sleep At The ‘G and the Canberra Community Sleepout, a lot of public speaking, media interviews and was on the board of a charity in Canberra assisting people who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.