Gabbi – The journey from violence to housing security
After her traumatic marriage of 10 years ended, Gabbi* experienced years of homelessness, which deeply impacted her already complex mental health issues. This Homelessness Week (1-7 August 2022) Gabbi courageously shares her story – from her long struggle with homelessness, to The Salvation Army’s homelessness and housing assistance that helped her finally secure the keys to a home.
Standing in front of a sign with a fresh ‘Leased’ sticker fastened across, Gabbi* was beaming. Five traumatic years of homelessness were finally behind her.
After battling for many years to gain a home in a highly competitive and challenging rental market, she could finally celebrate.
“It’s just fantastic. When they put the sticker on the sign … I finally had a home,” Gabbi says.
Homeless assistance after family and domestic violence
A recent Salvation Army survey found those who had experienced family and domestic violence were more likely to be homeless, or at risk of homelessness, because of the domestic violence. Of the respondents who had experienced family and domestic violence, 17 per cent were homeless and 49 per cent said homelessness, or the risk of homelessness was their greatest challenge in the past year. **
Gabbi says through tears: “[My husband] never beat me you know, you didn’t see my battle scars [but] even now, even though I know the food in the fridge is mine because I bought it, I still need reminders. Like ‘It’s okay for you to eat, it’s okay for you to go to the toilet … it’s okay, nobody is going to take your money away ...’”
Unable to secure a private rental property in the midst of a severe rental shortage, and with high demand, long waiting lists and limited availability of social housing, Gabbi went from living in a severely rundown and ageing granny flat, to a moored boat with no running water, power, heating or a proper bed, to the couches of family members and friends.
Compounding her distress were a string of people who took advantage of her vulnerability for their own means, including a relative, who took her in only to access her Centrelink payments.
Eventually Gabbi got in contact with a friend who had been homeless for six years and the two decided to look out for each other.
Combining their resources, they negotiated a room at a local motel where the operators showed them exceptional kindness and compassion. Gabbi also got in touch with the local Salvos who began working with her.
There are keys to finding a secure home. Contact your local Salvos service so we can help you through the right doors.
“When I started working with Gabbi she was about to give up on making applications for private rental properties,” says Salvos support worker Trevor. “This was because she was over the continual feeling of rejection that was affecting her mental health. We discussed various properties that were available in the price range and I assisted her to fill out applications.”
Gabbi and her friend paid for their motel room fortnightly, kept their room clean and were model guests. After 12 months they were able to provide a good reference to real estate agents and, along with the support from Trevor, were finally given a chance to lease a property.
“Trevor was able to liaise with the real estate agents and really push and say, ‘Give these guys a chance; they’re homeless and have been for a long length of time and it isn’t their fault’. When I signed that lease with my mate it was fantastic. When I saw the sticker go up in front of the lease sign and had the keys and we started moving things into the house it was fantastic,” Gabbi explains.
Support on the journey to greater housing security
The Salvation Army was also able to offer additional support to Gabbi, which included providing her with a washing machine, and some other assistance, to ensure her tenancy got off to a good start.
“I’ve only had one thing on my mind for … years and that is stable housing. It’s been a long battle since leaving that marriage … [and] living in other people’s houses and other people’s spaces, when I just wanted my own,” Gabbi says.
“Having a home and having a key so I can lock the door, I know that my stuff is not going to be touched or moved. I know that my stuff is not going to be thrown out on the curb again, or I’m not going to be asked to leave.
“I can wash my clothes. I can have a shower. I can cook my food. I can have a visitor and make them a cup of coffee and have a chat on the couch. And I’ve got a room to myself, so I can shut the door. I can watch my own TV, watch my own shows. I’ve got safety. I’ve got a door that I can lock, and I know that nobody is going to harm me, or take advantage of me, or steal my money. I can drink or eat whatever I want,” she says.
Stable home the key to a healthier life
Having the stability of a home has allowed Gabbi to focus on getting a regular GP and psychologist, working on her mental health needs, and ensuring she has access to medication.
Now settled, Gabbi has grown in confidence, she participates in social events and art classes organised through the local community centre and is building a support network.
“I’m really, really stoked that I’ve got a place to live, and I have permanent housing, but what I really need to emphasise is that in this day and age it takes six years to get a permanent residence. It. Is. Ridiculous,” says Gabbi.
“I never had to sleep out on the street – but I had to be cold, I had to go without food sometimes, or even fresh water … It’s not just my story, it’s the story of [so many] …”
Understanding homelessness is one of the keys to ending homelessness. Learn more at our National Homelessness Week page.
*This is a true story with name and some details changed to protect Gabbi
**Doorways Emergency Relief Survey, National Findings April 2022, The Salvation Army Australia Policy, Research and Social Justice Department
Author: Holly Reed