Image: Leona on the rooftop of Brisbane Common Ground. Credit: Cas Allan.
Last week I met two formerly homeless women, Leona and Kellie. I was surprised that they were very much like me, ordinary Australians who, through an unfortunate set of life circumstances, had found themselves homeless.
Leona is in her 60s and tought commercial studies at a private business college in Brisbane for over 20 years. She spent many years as a sole parent to five children and keeping her family together became an overwhelming juggle between work, child care and the household budget. A combination of family crises and a crippling spinal disability contributed to her eventual loss of income and housing.
“Most of the women who find themselves homeless have gone through loss of some description,” she said. “That might be the loss of their health, opportunities, support by family and others or education.”
Kellie, aged 22, is at the beginning of her adult life. Kellie has struggled with educational difficulties throughout her school years and has been diagnosed as suffering from Oppositional Defiance Disorder. She is a slow learner as a consequence of her disability.
“I was in the Special Education Unit in high school but it was not individualised enough and often we were asked the same questions over and over,” Kellie said.
“We weren’t allowed to go to the normal classes at all.”
Kellie left her family’s home soon after high school and initially spent several nights camping with a group of homeless people in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. She was fortunate to find accommodation in boarding houses and relatives’ homes over the next few years however she did not feel settled, nor were her needs catered for.
“It was very hard living in the bunk style accommodation of boarding houses and I didn’t feel safe when I was there,” Kellie said.
Both she and Leona found a home at Common Ground, a fourteen level purpose-built residential building in South Brisbane; one of several recent government initiatives that have seen opportunities open up for women who are homeless or who are facing homelessness.
The Australian Common Ground Alliance is informed by and based upon the research and success of the initial Common Ground organisation that started in New York in 1990 and undertakes to provide housing in the first instance to those experiencing chronic homelessness. The organisation works in partnership with organisations such as Micah Projects who were appointed by the Queensland Government.
Leona feels that the Common Ground project has provided her and other residents with a sense of community and purpose.
“It was a little strange getting used to living in a unit so close to other people having spent all of my life in houses in the suburbs,” she said.
“But now I consider Common Ground to be my suburb, the only difference being that this suburb goes up instead of out.”
Common Ground consists of 146 units (11 one bedroom and 135 studios) and common spaces for tenants. And while providing a home for 146 people in need is a small victory, statistics show that a lot more thought and funding from the Queensland Government and community bodies needs to happen before any accolades can be accepted.
Kellie is now living in a studio apartment of her own. She attends Southbank TAFE where she is studying English and Maths. Centacare, a community support service administered by the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, assists Kellie with daily living skills such as teaching her housekeeping, shopping and budgeting.
More about homelessness in Australia
In the 12 months leading up to the 2006 census more than 25,000 women experienced homelessness in Australia (see ABS paper). Domestic and family violence are two of the main causes of homelessness among women and children in Australia (see ABS paper).
55% of homeless women with children and 37% of lone homeless women declared domestic violence as their reason for leaving home.
Another key factor in homelessness is poverty. 9.5% of Brisbane’s population was living below the poverty line in 2010 (see ACOSS report) including 37% of people who are reliant on Centrelink payments.
In 2013 a single person taking home less than $489.23 per week after tax is considered to be living below the poverty line (see Melbourne Institute’s poverty line calculations). For a family of four, the line is drawn at a total weekly household income after tax of less than $918.92.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.
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