Can you imagine creating a safety plan - an escape - going to a shop to purchase a tent, knowing this will soon be all you have to house your children?
You would tell your precious children with an unwavering smile as you pack up their clothes, nappies and a few toys, that you’re taking them on a holiday. You’ve booked a local campsite for two weeks hoping that it’s enough time to go to Centrelink and get an allowance to help you afford your independence.
Several times during Fehreen’s* relationship she attempted to regain her independence by going to Centrelink and asking for help. “Whenever I tried, they said that I was considered in a 'de facto' relationship so I could not get any support to leave."
When we first met Fehreen, she burst into tears at the mention of affordable housing. She had arrived at a BaptistCare HopeStreet location with a small spark of hope after discovering a real estate listing that she could ‘only just’ afford as a single mum.
Fehreen was eligible for one of BaptistCare’s brand new two-bedroom units, with rent discounted below the market rate, as well as tailored support from our onsite team to help her work towards greater independence and stability.
For Fehreen, it meant a roof over her head and a safer, happier home for her sons. For many years that had seemed impossible.
As a psychologist, Fehreen understands the devastating effects of domestic and family violence in all of its forms, and when she realised the impact their father’s neglect and alcohol addiction was having on her sons, she had to make a change despite feeling trapped, financially drained and co-dependant.
“Domestic violence is not only physical, it is a mask that has many faces. It was heartbreaking, but it was not like everyone could see the result of physical violence or bruised eyes.”
“Of course, you want to make the relationship work, especially for the children; you believe it will change. But when we realise we are trapped, unhappy, and that our kids are in danger… we need to act.”
Fehreen did act. After a short time living in that tent, she found herself and her little boys residing in a women’s refuge. It was not easy, and she hadn't expected to stay for several months, but as she searched endlessly for a cheap rental she found it absolutely impossible to move her little family forward.
Recent research from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) shone a light on the challenges women and children face moving into stable, independent housing after domestic and family violence, saying it’s extremely difficult and sometimes unachievable¹.
The 2019 report identified gaps in the current system, including inadequate support payments that leave women and children living in poverty and unable to afford decent housing.
Fehreen’s children still saw their dad. When her ex-partner promised sobriety and change, and older kids at the refuge bullied their eldest child, they agreed to live separated under the same roof. But the promises were empty.
“It’s been very difficult. I applied for public housing when I first arrived at the refuge. When I eventually followed up, they had sent documents to the refuge and there was no reply - the refuge never forwarded it – so they kicked us off the list. I first applied four years ago, and I’m still waiting.”
For over three decades, HopeStreet has been coming alongside women facing the reality of homelessness with children or choosing to stay in a harmful relationship because they can’t afford to leave. We do this through our medium-term supported housing and affordable housing, as well as offering a range of other vital services to help women regain their independence, including counselling, group programs and no interest loans.
While Fehreen’s story is one of strength and resilience, and finally independence; sadly, it’s not the only one. There is great demand on our services.
“I know first-hand, it’s not easy. It’s a very hard decision especially when you’re not financially independent. But it’s not impossible. There is always a way. Ask for help and emotional support. We don’t need to feel shame for something we are not responsible for, but we are responsible for ourselves and our kids. We deserve a life with dignity,” said Fehreen.
“We’ve been here for one year now, and I am so grateful for everything BaptistCare has provided me. I came here with nothing. The boys’ father and I now have a good parenting relationship, he comes and sees the kids every afternoon. We have our safe place. When dinnertime comes, we say ‘bye, see you tomorrow’.”
“I came here so lost. I didn’t know how to go on. BaptistCare offered me a home and said that anything I need, they will help me with. I just cried.”
You can help us continue to provide safety, support and vital services to women and children desperately seeking a new life.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
*Names have been changed. Images are for illustration purposes.