Early childhood in a small two-bedroom apartment in a social housing complex in Sydney wasn’t easy for Sarah* and her siblings. Her dad left before she was one. And while their mum did love them, her alcohol dependency made their lives unstable. “There were days when I’d wish Mum bought groceries instead of alcohol. Going to bed on an empty stomach is a sensation hard to forget,” said Sarah.
Sarah was five when a family friend began to sexually abuse her while she and her siblings were in his care. Her mother had no idea. Sarah’s turmoil was reflected in her schooling until aged sixteen when a group of older girls took her in. “I thought I’d found my people. They accepted me. I hadn’t ever had that before,” said Sarah.
When she needed money, the girls introduced Sarah to their secret hustle. “On weekends, they made money by sleeping with men,” said Sarah. “I wasn’t sure, but the thought of not having to go hungry and having some money helped me through my first time.”
Soon Sarah was self-medicating to deal with the work, and needing work to pay for the drugs and alcohol on which she was increasingly dependent. She dropped out of school in Year 11. Sometimes she’d take a ‘job’ just so she wouldn’t have to sleep on the streets.
Sarah went to rehab several times for substance abuse. “Each time, I really did intend to change my life. But the only places I had to go afterwards were friends’ places – people caught up in the very thing I was trying desperately to leave behind. I felt trapped.”
Can you help women like Sarah who are stuck in a vicious cycle, isolated, lonely and on the margins?
Feeling judged by society made it difficult for Sarah to access support. The moment she walked into HopeStreet, she felt safe. “I felt at home for the first time in a very long time,” she said.
HopeStreet gave Sarah a haven from her tumultuous everyday life where she could regain some of the comforts and small dignities, like doing laundry, making a nutritious meal, and talking to someone who cares.
In working with caseworker Janine*, Sarah uncovered what she felt were her most important priorities. “I was on a waiting list for housing. Janine helped get me on a priority list to cut down the wait by a few years. She found me temporary community housing in between.”
Life-skills workshops challenged the way Sarah saw herself. “I decided to look myself in the mirror every morning and tell myself I am valuable and worthy, because I am. But it’s easy to forget,” said Sarah.
Counselling sessions through HopeStreet enabled Sarah to focus on her mental health and work through her childhood trauma. She’s gained hope and a new perspective. “I’ve enrolled in a Certificate II in Salon Assisting at TAFE. I still go to HopeStreet on a Thursday to study with a volunteer, and access the computers and WiFi to complete my assignments.”
Sarah is brave and resilient. She now contributes to the same services that helped her so much, co-running workshops with the HopeStreet team.