As we head into the cold winter months, we are facing a housing crisis across our state and suburbs that is preventing women from leaving violent relationships and causing many who do to become homeless, in many cases with their children in tow. We are seeing the effects of this across all of our HopeStreet locations.
Statistics show that domestic and family violence is the main cause of homelessness for the majority of women and children experiencing it here in Australia1. This really hit home for us when we met Chloe*, a young mum with a darling four-year-old boy, who had been experiencing homelessness for five months prior.
Can you imagine being faced with no other option than living with your young child in a van in the middle of winter? Your one and only priority would be keeping them safe and warm – using every resource you have – including your own body heat.
Chloe did so despite battling severe anxiety, all the while desperately seeking a home for her and her son, Ben. Chloe had fled interstate to escape vicious threats from her defacto partner, but in many ways much damage had already been done.
“I realised I was taking Benny to parks every day. We didn’t want to be at home. It wasn’t healthy. We should be able to be comfortable in our own home,” said Chloe.
“It was hostile at home, then the threatening began. I knew I had to leave.” It wasn’t the first time Chloe had to disappear from a violent man. With the help of her sister, she packed up their lives and fled for a second time. They quickly found themselves victim to the housing shortage, and endured the biting cold of winter last year living in a van, with the added insecurity around the pandemic.
When we first met Chloe, she was facing some of her darkest times. She was experiencing homelessness and high anxiety as a young single mum residing in a women’s refuge. Our dedicated team came beside Chloe and Ben, and provided emergency food support and assisted them with gaining temporary accommodation, while supporting Chloe in her search for permanent housing.
What we witnessed during this time was an attitude and resilience in Chloe where she just didn’t give up. She focused on what was important to her little boy. We could see she was and is very resourceful. But at that time, she could not see this version of herself.
“I was considering putting my son in my mum’s care, even though she already has a full house. I was feeling like I wasn’t doing the best for him. I felt like everything was my fault, so for a while there I was feeling really bad,” said Chloe.
Our team helped Chloe create a plan to support her goals and address her and Ben’s needs, both short and long term. When children have been exposed to violence, they can commonly suffer from behavioural, developmental and mental health problems, particularly in their early development years of ages two to three.
Our team noticed the developmental challenges and anxiety Ben was facing, and we were able to help Chloe gain access to supportive therapies through NDIS Early Intervention.
“They are saying it’s the trauma Benny has gone through that has now impacted his delayed learning. When we first started to work on it, he didn’t want to learn. He was dealing with so much from before; from being homeless; and the refuge,” said Chloe. “It’s been really hard to toilet train and his speech is a year behind.”
Without a home to live in, it was difficult to give Ben the safe and stable environment he needed to thrive. “There was just no housing available. You know, 40-50 people would be looking at the same house you were looking at. You kind of knew you wouldn’t get it. People would show up in bank clothes, you know they are workers. They would have way more chance of getting the house than a single mum like me.”
Chloe has faced so many challenges where she very easily could have taken a very different path. The man they were escaping was not her son’s father… the father of her child had brutally beaten her and put her in hospital just months after she conceived.
“Back then, the police said I shouldn’t put his name on Benny's birth certificate. They said I should just erase him and run, so I did,” said Chloe.
From the time that she fled, it took Chloe nine months to find a home. Two weeks before Christmas, her son drew a house on his letter to Santa. And just seven days before Christmas, our team helped Chloe and Ben move in and furnish their new permanent housing, where they now live.
“We’re doing really well now. Benny is definitely calmer and I’m feeling more settled, so my anxiety is not as high. We’re working on his development. It’s really good to see him start to shine,” said Chloe.
In the short four months we have worked alongside Chloe, she has achieved every goal she originally set. Chloe is now studying for her dream job as well as supporting Ben. Ben is going to Family Day Care and is making good progress from speech therapy and intervention. We still support them both through regular strategy sessions for their mental health. We really are so proud of both Chloe and Ben.
Please donate today and be the hope for people like Chloe and Ben. Join us as we walk beside the real lives and beating hearts in our neighbourhoods.
If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic or family violence, please call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or ACT Domestic Violence Crisis 24-hour Service line on 6280 0900. In an emergency, call 000.
¹Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Specialist homelessness services annual report. Cat. no. HOU 322. Canberra: AIHW.
*Names have been changed. Images are for illustration purposes.