7 August 2020
For the first anniversary of our Next Door program, we wanted our client’s voices to be heard.
This is Lynette’s* story.
For you, the reader, to understand how amazing the Next Door Program and appreciate how amazing the staff has been to me and the many women they have helped, I need to share with you, just briefly, my circumstances:
At the age of 50 years old I faced divorce, was going through menopause and experiencing clinical depression. This collection of life experiences was overwhelming and even on their own, would have been horrific to manage.
What followed for me was 7 years of me only being able to get casual employment that most times were short-term contracts that were positions below my level of expertise, education and experience. It soon became clear, Ageism was at work and trying as I may, to reinvent myself, I could not get employed in a full-time, secure position.
Over this period, I moved three cities and 17 times, only being able to afford to live in shared accommodation. You can imagine how humiliating and demoralizing I felt. I pushed on and found myself going to approximately 72 job interviews over this period. I applied for over 430 different positions. At times I simply gave up and sat in my shared accommodation, staring at four walls. Then, I’d start again.
It soon became clear to me that if I could experience this continual battle and in essence have a nomad existence and frequent homelessness, any woman my age could as well. I felt awful for the many elderly women facing this reality. I investigated and found that the fastest-growing group of people experiencing homelessness are women in their 50s who had just gotten divorced and had taken a break from their careers previously to raise children.
I applied to every possible government and social program for housing, legal assistance, health and counselling and social support. It soon became clear that these services were at breaking point. They still are. On top of this, the Newstart unemployment pension still is at the same rate as in 1994. This sees recipients having to live on $40 a day. An average, small room in regional Australia is $50 a day.
Naturally, my health and in particular my mental health deteriorated. I have a teenage daughter and wanted to raise her. I had to give up my parenting rights because I could not afford to have my child. This is by far the most devastating experience any mother can face. Housing waitlists in cities are at 6 to 20-year waiting periods. In regional areas, the wait time is just a little less.
My health was deteriorating, and I was placed on a high-needs waitlist with Housing ACT for when an appropriate home became available. Until then, though, I was advised to keeping looking for a place in the private market.. Now, greedy landlords have capitalized on the short supply of accommodation for lower-income individuals, sending the rental rate for a room way beyond what the average low wage earner can afford. How then can someone of my age, unemployed and living on Newstart find affordable accommodation?
I moved so often and lived in such appalling conditions, and shared at times with dangerous individuals. They say moving is one of the most stressful experiences you can have. Well, I’ve moved now 16 times over the past 7 years.
A turn in emergency eventually brought me in contact with the Next Door program. From that moment my life changed for the better. I had read in a local newspaper of their services and had the hospital social worker call them. Within two hours, two amazing, empathetic and knowledgeable women of my age were at my bedside.
They listened to my story and for the first time in 7 years, I immediately noticed that there were people who cared. Their caring and their recognition of my pain and suffering reflected in their faces. I even felt awful having to retell them my story and see them suffer with me. They reacted with apologies and made me understand that they would not leave my side and that they would ensure I never would suffer at the level I had already experienced. For the first time, I believed I was going to get help. I had been let down so many times before. These women related to my pain as if it were their own. They responded with haste and made things happen immediately.
After I was released from the hospital, I was placed in emergency accommodation and visited almost every day to ensure I was maintaining my mental health. I was given clothing, food, and was supported and taken to doctor’s appointments and out to get groceries.
At this stage, I started to become mute when I had to again retell my story to yet another doctor or support worker. These women did not hesitate to advocate and at times be my voice. They continually fought against bureaucracy and staff demoralisation. Before long, I was offered accommodation through Housing ACT and, within a week, I was helped to move into my new place. The Next Door program went further and ensured I had furniture and all essential items to start being independent. These wonderful women still oversee my progression to me living a full, happy life. I now feel of value to the world again. I have started to paint again and even have several exhibitions arranged. My relationships with family, friends and my daughter have improved greatly.
I have even returned to work as a therapist again and have just recently fallen in love. I will be getting married again in 2021. There is still life and love to give in this old girl!
Do you know an older woman in need of support to secure and maintain an affordable, appropriate and safe home? Find out more about how it works or contact our team:
*not the client’s real name.