Photos by Diana Shypula
When Aboriginal elder Nina* and her husband lost the lease on their community housing flat in 2014, it was the start of nearly 18 months of homelessness.
The pair were unable to find replacement housing and so spent many months couch-surfing from friend to friend, sometimes sleeping rough in bushes and trees when nothing else was available.
Finally, sick of the fleas and bedbugs their nomadic life exposed them to, they took drastic action and pitched two tents in Victoria Park, not far from the University of Sydney.
“One tent was a bedroom and one was a wardrobe,” explains Nina. “It was a beautiful park, but when it rained it was like the twister in The Wizard of Oz, and I didn’t know if I was coming back.”
While the tent gave Nina, 46, a sense of independence, it was no place for someone with serious mental health challenges. As well as being a member of the stolen generation, she is living with schizophrenia, is a survivor of rape, and suffers from dyslexia.
Without support from NNC, Nina might still be homeless and at extreme risk of both physical and mental harm. Instead, NNC Boarders House Outreach Service case worker Jay worked together with her to ensure she had a valid application lodged for community housing, and assisted her communication with government departments and her bank.
After Nina’s persistent lobbying saw her fast-tracked into a community housing flat, Jay was on hand to help her weather the first few weeks of her tenancy – a notoriously difficult transition period.
“The first few weeks I was here, I went totally bipolar,” Nina says. “I didn’t want the place, I was sick and I didn’t have any furniture. It was too much. But we ended up running around getting some furniture which made things better.”
While her husband is now living separately in rural NSW, Nina has hopes for a brighter future. “I’m going to start a TAFE course in literacy and computers at Eora College in Chippendale,” she says. “Most of all, I have my sanity.”
On any given night in Australia about 1 in 200 people are homeless (105,000 people). Around 28,191 people are experiencing homelessness in NSW - more people than in any other state. Some 44 per cent are female and 25 per cent are Indigenous. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are 15 times more likely to be staying in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping rough than non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. (statistics thanks to Homelessness Australia). In the City of Sydney the most recent street count (August 2016) found almost 400 people sleeping rough. ( City of Sydney street count statistics).
We strongly believe that everyone deserves a place to call home. Unfortunately, the latest rental affordability research reveals housing stress, particularly for low-income Australians, is forcing many people out of the rental market. We would like to see 15-30% of proposed housing redevelopments designated for social and affordable housing. Join us by signing our petition which we will take to the Greater Sydney Commission as they draft plans for how Sydney will look over the next 50 years.
*Name changed and not depicted in photos to protect privacy
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