Giving a voice to residents about their experience with homelessness

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Giving a voice to residents about their experience with homelessness

November 19, 2019

Rose knows what it is like to be homeless. She had too many years of couch surfing, living in precarious private rental accommodation, and being forced to move from one residence to another as a result of domestic violence and elder abuse.

She has finally found her own sanctuary with Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria, an organisation she describes as the champion of the underdog, and a home to many older Victorians in need.

Being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rose has been living in an OCAV village for the past two years. She knows she will always have PTSD –a mental health condition that develops following traumatic events – but she is beginning to recover and gain a sense of peace, security and hope.

Rose is one of many residents who are sharing their story about homelessness with the organisation which is making a submission to the Victorian Government’s inquiry into homelessness.

The inquiry is addressing the changing scale and nature of homelessness across Victoria, investigating the many social, economic and policy factors that impact on homelessness and identifying policies and practices that have a bearing on service delivery.

As Rose says, sadly her story is not a one-off.

“Almost daily we hear of the ‘tsunami’ of over 55-year-old women who are finding themselves homeless because of family and marriage breakdown. They have, like me, been exposed to years of financial and emotional abuse which has left them unable to rent because they have no rental history let alone money,” she said.

This was not always the case for Rose. As a child, she lived on a farm, and she had always enjoyed rural living. She left for the city to study law, she graduated and established her own legal practice.

She left one marriage after ten years’ of abuse. The pattern of abuse followed her into a second marriage which she also left.

“The abuse took its toll. I was broke with a diagnosed mental condition, and in struggle town,” Rose said.

She describes her experience as a cycle of poverty and violence which has at last ended because of finding a haven with the Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria.

“I love the association’s mission – started 150 years ago- where everyone is assessed on merit. Those who are able to pay give a one-off donation and from thereon, everyone is equal,” Rose said.

She has plenty of advice for those heading up the inquiry:

“We have to change the stereotype of homelessness. Not everyone who is homeless is sleeping on the street, has no work, has never been employed, or has substance abuse issues” she says.

“Regardless of why someone is homeless, we all need to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Specifically for government she says that subsidies should be established so that it is easy to access funding for a bond, rent for at least three months, and furniture.

“If you have no rental history, or readily available money, then you have few options,” Rose said.

She also believes that GPs and other frontline workers need to be trained to understand the full spectrum of homelessness, and the link with family violence and elder abuse.

“We can all put up a front of dressing well and covering bruises when we see a professional, but professionals need to have training and trust their intuition more if they suspect violence, or that someone is homeless,” she said.

For those who are homeless, she advises never to be too proud to ask for help and to find a GP you can trust.

“Our home has always been a place where family and friends are welcome.  Our cottage at Rushall Park is no different and the community of friends here is important to us and that’s why their work is part of my art box,” Jennifer Barden said.

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