Jo has been living in the leafy suburb of Mt Colah for the last 16 years. She shares her home with her fiancé and three of her five children. Her 21 year old has moved out to study at university while her 26 year old recently moved out with his girlfriend. Life for Jo is pretty good but it hasn’t always been that way for the mother of five. She and her family were once homeless. She shares how becoming homeless can happen to anyone and the lessons she learnt along the way.
How did you go from living in stable rental accommodation to being homeless?
I was a single mum with five kids aged five weeks, three, four, five and nine years old. Our apartment was set on fire by a local drug addict who had during the night mistaken my address for the local drug dealer. He was not happy at 3am when I told him to get lost. We were not home at the time of the fire and while it was put out quickly our unit was unliveable and we were left with (for a short time) with nothing but the clothes on our backs.
We were lucky that my ex let us stay at his initially (six of us in one room). The landlord saw it as a chance to get money to refurbish and charge more rent. We were evicted, even though it wasn’t our fault. I tried to rent but as soon I said I was a single mum with five kids, forget it. After three weeks in one room it was getting tough
So how did you find alternative accommodation?
I had been teaching craft at a Christian centre and through the ladies there, we were offered emergency housing at Dalmar Carlingford. Lucky it was furnished as we lost all couches, beds bedding and chairs to smoke damage. We were also lucky that school mums helped by washing all our clothes and toys, salvageable utensils etc.
We were told very quickly by housing commission that we didn’t qualify for emergency housing. I didn’t know what we would do. I was constantly on edge wondering what would happen to us. We were blessed we had a counsellour and I slowly learnt the most valuable lesson of my life –it’s okay to let people help you!
It took 6 months before we were offered a community housing house. We have been here ever since, over 16 years. We again were blessed to live in a great area with good neighbours and a community!
What were some of the emotional struggles you went through during this time?
It made me feel like a failure as a parent and an adult and made me resent some of my family for not being more helpful. I used to get mad at the Dalmar people for trying to give me things, I felt like if I accepted their help I was accepting I was hopeless! I’m glad they were patient enough to wear me down and make me understand that allowing them to help me benefited me and them! Helping people is a great feeling!
How did you find settling into stable accommodation?
It took years for me to feel actually settled. I was obsessive about keeping my home perfect in case they took it away. I’m more relaxed now thank goodness [laughs], with five kids it’s a bit hard to keep everything perfect!
What did you learn from the experience?
That it’s okay to need help, to accept it and be thankful. To be grateful for everything we have every day, no matter how small it is. I learnt that by allowing others to take some of the weight you can indeed heal yourself from traumatic events and times. That there are some amazing people in this world and that I should really see the world around me and give back.
How do people react when you tell them you were once homeless?
I am very open about it! It was a shaping event in my life and made me so much stronger. People are usually gobsmacked. They can’t comprehend that it can happen to anyone. I was educated, a registered nurse and had money! It’s not always so simple!
If there was one myth you could dispel about homeless people, what would it be
It’s not always their choice or their fault! It can happen to anyone
What impact did this experience have on you and your family?
I am one of the lucky ones. I think that being homeless has made me appreciate the small things and learn to be more grateful. I think that the instability made me so scared I never wanted my kids to know that feeling so it inspired me to create a positive, you can do anything despite the odds attitude.
Four of my kids have finished school andmy youngest is in year 11. I have 2 chefs, a nurse and a club manager. I think if you asked them they would tell you that they didn’t always have everything but they had stability and love. They have all brought home friends in trouble to get a dose of this, they are all kind caring kids who would help anyone and I’m so proud of that! The older ones remember Dalmar with a smile. The recount they had a horse to feed every day, had donuts every Tuesday and had those nice ladies who played with us”
Life can improve and doesn’t have to be overnight! I’m glad I was homeless; it made me fearless….eventually!
What role do books play in your life and did you read while going through all this upheaval?
I love reading and I love all books except sci-fi. Different books bring different emotions so I like to mix it up.
Reading was my saving grace to escape to another world and feel something different to the dread and depression I felt constantly.
I love what you guys do as books are such an escape from what can be a crap day!