Rebbeca’s story – My year and a half of living homeless.

This is Rebecca’s, a forty five year old socialist, account of her recent experience of homelessness in Australia.

I’d like to say this was a family issue, as a single mum, my son also became homeless. My son was pretty lucky he had two places to stay throughout being homeless, one was with a friend’s brother, that ended when the friend’s brother moved back there and my son was forced to couch surf. He didn’t like it as he had no privacy and the house was a bit of a party house, so my son became very depressed through lack of sleep. 

The second place my son lived in was with a childhood friend and his mother; he lived there for nine months and I am so grateful to his friend and his friend’s mum as they gave my son stability, more than I could provide at the time. Both those places, rooms, cost my son $100 a week; he worked different jobs throughout that period. 

My own homelessness wasn’t as stable. I don’t have many friends that live close or have extra space for a permanent boarder so I moved seven or eight times over a year and a half. 

The first place I lived was with a bloke I met on plentyoffish. We had a sorta relationship, not much really, as he was an alcoholic with his own mental issues. I stayed in his spare room for 4 days. There was an issue with my iPad and I left that place fairly quickly as I found out that bloke was very unpleasant. I had nowhere to go so slept in my car a few nights. 

The second place I was renting was a room for $100 a week off a lady that I was doing an aged care course/traineeship with. I called her one night to see if I could get a lift with her to work in the morning, and as I had previously mentioned my circumstances, she asked where I was sleeping. I said my car, so she said I could stay at hers in her spare room for a while. I stayed there for three months and during that time I moved into another bloke’s spare room I met helping me move some furniture into a storage shed. That lasted two nights, then I went back to the lady’s room for one more night. It seemed I had outstayed my welcome; apparently she told her husband I wasn’t paying rent, which I was, and this pissed me off, but I didn’t say anything to defend myself as I didn’t want to cause a rift between them when she obviously kept my rent money for herself and told hubby I wasn’t paying rent. 

Then I was in my car again for a couple of nights. Sleeping in a car is not safe or comfortable. After 5 pm, a lot of businesses close and after a certain time there are no public toilets open, so going to the toilet and showering is a issue; baby wipes were good, I found. 

I put a status on Facebook on my situation and a political friend offered me a room behind his small business. I accepted, as I had no other choice, and this place was further from my son and my work. During the three weeks I lived there I would drive to see my son, spend time with him. I was unemployed but managed to find a job in Individual Support (Disability). The job was far away and I was doing split shifts so I would stay around my work area and see my son. I would leave very early in the morning and come home late at night. The business was shutting so that was very short term.

After that, an acquaintance found me a place to stay in a room attached to a garage. There was no shower or toilet, it was just a small room. I had a mattress on the floor, a bar fridge, a toaster and a kettle. The people I was renting off said I could use their shower and toilet in the back of their house, but it was very undesirable as the man slept not with his wife but at the back of the house, right near the shower and toilet! That man was constantly hassling me for money, I was paying $150 a week, wayyyyyyyy to much for the inadequate facilities. 

I knew I had to find a room close to work and my son so I looked on flatmates.com.au. I found a room with a lady for $160 a week and the room and house was very nice. I couldn’t move in straight away, had to wait some weeks.

The man I was renting off kept hassling me for money. I told him I would pay him soon after I paid for some car repairs and registration. In the meantime, I left and moved into the $160 a week one. I felt $150 a week for that crappy space was unfair, so I didn’t pay my last 3 weeks rent and one day I packed my car and left that space. I felt justified I got some revenge for the crappy living circumstances and the constant hounding for money. The $160 a week was ok, as I was hardly there because I was working a lot of shifts. But the owner of the house and another woman boarder were really bitchy, so I left that place to sleep in my car after a small incident in which I screamed my head off at a bitchy woman and was told to leave for “being aggressive”. Whatever, I would have preferred to sleep in my car than living with two absolute bitches. 

I was therefore in my car again, but not for long, because I looked on flatmates.com.au and found a very nice place and housemate. I lived there nine months and payed $190 a week for a nice room and my very own nice bathroom. The housemate was lovely, a gem, didn’t hassle me at all. 

The bad news was all good things must come to an end and the gem of a lady wanted to move and rent her own place, so she found a place fairly quickly and told me the moving date. 

I was looking for places to rent, it was not easy just looking. You have to be there at specific times, and with work it was difficult. My son helped me look for places and I had to have time off work to look. We were under the gun to find a place as I would be, yes, in my car again. It costs money to drive around looking at rental properties, and printing up all the paperwork they require to apply. It’s a pain in the butt, and competition is fierce, especially on cheaper properties. We applied for 15 places, got rejection after rejection. I started offering more rent than the asking price. I knew the date I had to be out and I didn’t have anywhere to go I was very depressed thinking of sleeping in my car. It was making me anxious. 

The last night I had before I left I got a phone call a place was approved, a two bedroom granny flat. I was happy to have a place finally, but, in the meantime I knew I had to sleep in my car. I wracked my brains of where I could stay, there weren’t many options. 

I went to the Department of Housing to apply for Rental Bond Loan, this government organisation, I must say with great passion, was absolutely useless. I gave them my bank account details, I had $200 in the bank. I told them I was sleeping in my car till I moved into the grannyflat, I had nowhere else to go. They asked for so much paperwork, mine, my sons, payslips, bank statements, proof of homelessness! . I haven’t stayed in a refuge, I wasn’t in any “system”. When I called previously to get help I was told I could stay in a women’s refuge for a few nights, I thought, wow, I will still be homeless I would rather sleep in my car or find a room somewhere.

Proving homelessness is not an easy thing. I consider temporary accomodation to be homeless, my stuff was in storage for a year and a half, I had no secure, permanent, home. The workers from the department of housing varied from compassionate to rude. Apparently I earned too much money for them to help me, and I couldn’t prove I was homeless. This organisation was useless, I proved I had $200 in the bank , I proved I work and I pay $300 tax a week , and I CAN pay back a INTEREST FREE LOAN, but no……with help I could have moved into my place stress free, as it was, I had to payout nearly two weeks pay in bond and removalist costs. Leaving us with very little for food and petrol to get to work. I personally think the department of housing is contemptible. 

The circumstances that lead to homelessness was a job loss, my car broke down and then I hurt my knee, I couldn’t make it to work, I was promptly let go, by text! Having no job meant I had to rely on welfare payments to live on, pay rent, Newstart payment is extremely inadequate, after I payed rent I had $10 left. 

The whole system is rotten and putrid to the core, from lack of affordable housing, to inadequate welfare payment to lack of support from the government. 

Rebecca

Editors Note: Rebecca’s story is typical of the housing crisis that affects millions of working class Australians, which results from the subordination of the social right to housing to profit. The median house price in Sydney $840,000 and $650,000 in Melbourne. Millions of Australians went far into debt to buy houses during a sustained housing bubble which benefited developers and the banks and are now experiencing “mortgage stress”. Anglicare annual report on rental affordability revealed only 2 percent of rental properties were affordable for those on the minimum wage, there were only 75 affordable rentals available for a single parent with one child on unemployment benefits. Hundreds of thousands of people await housing in the underfunded public housing system. This has contributed to a crisis which has led to over 116,000 people being officially homeless but this number is certainly a vast underestimate of the amount of people who lack safe, permanent housing. The struggle for a decent housing for all can only be waged in opposition to the entire ruling class and as part of the struggle to replace capitalism with socialism, a system based on using the productive capacities our society for human need not profit.

Davey Heller

Davey Heller is a Trotskyist from Melbourne and long-time campaigner for Left-wing causes including anti-war, refugee rights, environmental protests and workers' struggles. He is a former secondary teacher who studies history at Monash University and currently works in the environmental field. You can follow him on Twitter at @socialist_davey

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