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The Red Shield Appeal helped give Kathy and her son a safe and secure place to call home

Kathy never thought she would end up homeless. She and her husband were homeowners and raising their young son. But then her whole life was turned upside down, and Kathy ended up sleeping in a caravan on her friend’s property.

Invisible homelessness like this is more prevalent than rough sleeping. For every homeless person you can see on the streets, there are 13 more you can’t (ABS Census 2016).

By this time, James, her son, was a teenager. A “dumpy” caravan was no place for him to focus on his schoolwork – let alone have any sort of normal, teenage social life. Desperate to give her son a better future and more stability, Kathy sought the support of the Salvos.

Read her story from heartache and homeless to housed and hopeful.

Kathy’s story

I have a 16-year-old son, James. He’s gone without so much.

When we became homeless, it was very unexpected. I never thought I’d find myself needing the help of anyone like The Salvation Army. We had bought a house – me and my then husband. But he walked out on us with somebody else and wanted to sell. That was seven years ago now. That’s probably when I started to panic.

We were on our own and I couldn’t work at the time. I’d struggled on and off with my health for a while. Anyway, we sold up. We didn’t really get much, there wasn’t much equity.

We started renting but we had to move suburbs as we couldn’t afford anything where we were. I wanted a place with a shed for my son because he’s always welding, or building, or doing something. He’s very hands on and creative. He started his own little lawn mowing business when he was about 14. He welded a trailer that went behind his pushbike. He used to put his lawnmower and whipper snipper on it and ride to people’s places. I’d make up flyers for him.

But my health got really bad after my husband left. I had a breakdown and it took me ages to recover. I was on a disability pension but it was hardly enough to cover even the basics.

Life went from bad to worse

Eventually the money ran out. It didn’t take long at all. It was pretty much a struggle week by week for a long time. My son went without a lot. Clothes, shoes and other basic things. My son wanted to keep up with the other kids, and have some brand names, but we just couldn’t. He felt really left out. He lost a lot. I felt like a big failure.

He used to play cricket – he is a really good player. But the equipment, the club fees, the cost of petrol travelling around, all that was too expensive. The sad thing is he was going somewhere, he really was. He was nearly on the state team. He started playing when he was five and he had to give it up. It made me feel horrible. I felt terrible.

James struggled a lot when his dad left. Because my ex-husband had a new child and decided he couldn’t deal with two families – he didn’t just leave me, he left James too.

James doesn’t have any contact with him anymore. He was so little when his dad left – only nine. James started going through a really hard time as a teenager. We were arguing all the time. He was going through a lot with his dad leaving, not getting things or being able to afford things – it was a really bad stage. I was always stressed so it was very stressful for him too.

I was trying really hard to do something to make money – I was stacking shelves at a supermarket just to get some extra cash. But I had a wrecked knee that got worse and worse until I couldn’t do it anymore. It wasn’t long before money became so tight, and I couldn’t pay rent anymore. I got so behind. I ended up just ringing them and saying I can’t catch up. Everything seemed to happen at once – so many bills, so many everything that I just couldn’t pay. Then we ended up losing our house – our rental.

That was one of the lowest times. It was horrible. It was traumatising really – we had nowhere to go, you just didn’t feel like you belonged anywhere, you didn’t want anyone to know. I felt embarrassed and we had no idea where to go.

My son was saying, “Mum, we’ll just live in the car.” I knew he couldn’t do that though.

The many effects of homelessness, including a ruptured relationship

We ended up staying at a friend’s house – I hired a caravan and put it in her backyard. But that was just really hard because it had no running water. It was just a really dumpy place – plus it only had one bed. James didn’t cope well there. So he ended up taking off and going to his girlfriend’s house.

I hated being without him and he didn’t like being without me.

We’d been through so much together. It was really hard being apart. So I was really desperate to get something so that we’d be together again.

I can’t remember how I came to the Salvos. I don’t know who rang me or anything. I just remember coming here. When I did, they were caring but also realistic. They told me there was no permanent housing available, that it can take a long time. That was really hard to hear. For three months we were all over the place and it was hard for us to be together. I thought, if this was going to be forever, I’d lose him. I thought, I can’t lose my son because I’ve got nowhere to live.

Then we got a permanent place through the Salvos.

Housed with happiness and hope

We are so happy. It’s great to be together again. We haven’t been in our new place long – it’s all very recent. It’s got a shed and it’s got a backyard. James is just wrapped. He can hang with his friends.

The feeling of having a permanent house – it’s unreal. I’m still stressing out a bit because I haven’t come to terms with it, but every day I’m relaxing a bit more. The Salvos have helped a lot.

Beth my case worker was fantastic – she still is. We get along really well, we were picked for each other. She understood where I was coming from and what I was going through. I wasn’t embarrassed to tell her anything. She helped me a lot. She’s become like a friend.

I never thought I’d be homeless. It didn’t seem real – things happen outside of your control. All of a sudden we just had nowhere. And I was going to lose my son.

You don’t know what it feels like until you’re in that situation.

The Salvos helped me keep my son and me together. That was the most important thing to me. He just wanted a permanent house to be with me and I just wanted to be with him. We’re wrapped, we’re really happy. I don’t have to worry about James now. He’s happy and independent. He’s so calm and relaxed.

Our life has some sort of permanency. I want to give back now. I know so many people are struggling right now – and I’m so pleased and thankful for what the Salvos did for us.

Kathy and James have had their names and some specific details of their story changed to protect their privacy.

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