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Hunter women among record numbers facing homelessness

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Sleeping in a cold car with her 11-year-old son, wrapped in borrowed blankets, was the trigger that finally made Angela* seek out a safe place.

After years of homelessness and a marriage breakdown in 2013, the 48-year-old mother-of-two said she was desperate to escape the fear that came with having no walls for protection.

“My sister and I weren’t getting along and I found myself with nowhere else to go,” she said.

Angela had lived with her sister for three months before the arguments escalated and she fled, seeking refuge at another relative’s home late one night.

“It was freezing cold,” she said.

“They didn’t hear me knocking on the door so I had to sleep in the car.

“Then early the next morning after being in the car all night, they let us in.”

The former aged care nurse then slept on a mattress on the floor of her niece’s room with her son for another 10 weeks.

“Then it was time to go again,” she said.

“It was only a two-bedroom place and the daughter didn’t have any space in her room to play with me on the floor. It was getting very crowded.”

After calling a homeless helpline and being offered five nights in a motel room with her son, Angela said she felt helpless.

Women in regional Australia are facing a housing crisis according to a YWCA National Housing survey.

“I called the homeless line again and I said: ‘What’s next’?

“I couldn’t afford to pay to stay at the motel and I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.”

Angela survives on Centrelink benefits and financial support from her ex-husband.

“That helps,” she said.

“But it’s not enough for accommodation.”

While she confesses she’s always been “a bit of a gypsy”, Angela admits she needs to find a permanent solution.

“I’ve been in transitional housing, that means nothing permanent, since December [2019],” she said.

“I’m tired of being homeless. I want to be happy in a place that’s comfortable for [my son] and me.”

“I can’t afford Fancy Nancy everything, but I like a place to be clean.”

Angela’s situation is sadly all too familiar, with new research revealing women in regional NSW are the hardest hit.

A YWCA National Housing Survey, conducted in late 2019, showed one in six women in regional NSW has been homeless in the past five years.

YWCA National Housing and Property Development Director, Jan Berriman, said the survey, the first to be conducted outside the nation’s capital cities, showed an “urgent need for more safe, secure and affordable accommodation”.

NSW had the highest numbers of regional women who reported they had experienced homelessness in the past five years (17%).

The national average was 12%.

“We need to urgently double and diversify affordable housing options in the regions or face a tsunami of homeless women and children.

Jan Berriman, YWCA National housing
YWCA National Housing and Property Development Director Jan Berriman.

Many of these women, Ms Berriman said, sacrificed daily essentials to meet their housing payments, with 30% reporting they went without meals in the past year and 44% refraining from heating or cooling their homes.

Bushfires, droughts and pandemics like COVID-19 are also expected to have an impact on the numbers of women experiencing homelessness, which, together with job loss and domestic violence rates, are concerning community groups.

“Domestic and family violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women in Australia and, in regional areas, the impacts are even more severe because social services and supports may be limited and strained to start with,” Ms Berriman said.

“Government, philanthropic, corporate and community organisations need to partner to create and increase the supply of social and affordable housing options whilst funding housing support services across the country.”

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