Australia’s ‘invisible’ homeless women | Roaming

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Melbourne, Australia – “My homelessness is directly linked to domestic violence, because I would get up and go,” said Naomi, 47, who asked that we only use her first name.

An indigenous woman who grew up in downtown Melbourne, Naomi is a talkative whose energy and assertiveness belies years of hardship.

Now living in Queensland, Australia’s northernmost state, Naomi describes her experiences of homelessness and domestic violence during a lengthy phone call.

“Domestic violence was normalized for me because I watched it grow up,” she said neutrally.

Growing up with her native mother and Irish father, she is said to experience severe domestic violence, often fueled by alcohol.

“Mom – don’t get me wrong, I love her with all my heart – but I just couldn’t understand growing up as a young girl, she was just crazy,” she said sadly.

“Like, she would ride on the grog [get drunk] and she would just be completely crazy. And she and daddy would just go for the murder, and just get into this drunken rage. “

Naomi didn’t know it at the time, but her mother was part of the “stolen generations” – indigenous children who were forcibly taken from their families – and grew up in a mission led by non-indigenous nuns.

Indigenous children are often victims of extreme abuse in these institutions, where conditions are harsh and punishments severe.

In addition to the pain of separation from family, the dislocation of their culture and heritage, the trauma that the “stolen generations” have experienced has often resulted in alcohol and drug use, domestic violence and violence. roaming, all of which impact the next generation.

After her parents separated, Naomi found herself homeless at the age of 14 and found accommodation in various hostels around Melbourne.

“I have worked in many factories in Richmond. I just found good little jobs where I could support myself, ”she says. “But I wasn’t old enough to rent a house, so I had to stay in these little hostels and surf on the couch.”

She describes hostels as “always dirty with random people, old people. I was quite young. It was a little scary. “

Domestic violence and housing shortage

Stories like Naomi’s are not uncommon in Australia.

In fact, domestic and family violence is the leading cause of homelessness in the country and, as such, women make up almost half of all homeless people.

During a recent march for women’s justice in Melbourne, a blank sheet was deployed listing the names of 889 women and children who have been killed in recent years as a result of domestic violence. On average, one woman per week is killed in Australia by a partner or ex-partner [Ali MC/Al Jazeera]

Statistics show that more than a third of women over the age of 15 have experienced physical, psychological or sexual violence from a current or former partner.

Because of this threat to their safety, women like Naomi are forced to leave home, often accompanied by their children.

While men who experience homelessness are more likely to sleep rough, women who experience homelessness are more likely to have dependent children with them. This added responsibility often means they’ll explore safer options than sleeping on the streets, like staying with friends, in rooming houses and boarding houses, and even in the back of a car.

Naomi, who had the first of her three children at the age of 22, found herself in a series of violent relationships. This, added to her childhood experience, led her to believe that domestic violence was just a normal part of life.

“For me, I was just thinking [the violence] was the norm. And then you actually get used to it, ”she says.

She often had to escape the home on short notice with her children and would stay with friends and family, surf the couch, or return to temporary accommodation in hostels.

“I also thought it was normal, to just have to pack my bags and leave and go to another place,” she said.

“I did this for a long time with the two older children, and then I was like ‘no, that’s not really good’, that’s not a good thing.”

The “invisible” homelessness of women

Experts said the public perception of women and homelessness is inaccurate, as women’s homelessness is often “invisible”.

“Women have a very different view of homelessness,” said Anna Paris, operations manager of Sacred Heart Mission, a Melbourne-based NGO that provides a range of services to people who are homeless, including a meal program and a women’s shelter. “They’re not as prevalent around restless sleep, in squats and things like that, they’re less likely to look for rooming house accommodation.

“So often the public thinks that there is only a small proportion of homeless women, but we actually know that it is a much higher proportion – almost 50%. It just looks different and the way we count them is different. “

Besides domestic violence and trauma, Anna said the chronic housing shortage in Victoria state, where Melbourne is located, also has a huge impact.

“Individuals carry their reasons for why they might present [at a homeless service] any day, but many of those [issues are] structural, ”she said.

“There is a huge shortage of affordable housing, especially for single women who may or may not receive benefits. “

In 2015, the government of the state of Victoria completed a Royal Commission on Family Violence and issued 227 recommendations.

One of the recommendations was to ensure that women victims of domestic violence have priority in finding social housing, a commitment that the government intends to honor with the announcement that it is building more social housing.

While Anna praised the government for its proactive stance in addressing domestic violence and the resulting homelessness, she said there was still a long way to go and women often found themselves in violent homes. lack of options.

“Even if you are in a priority group, you can wait years and years and years for housing to become available,” she said.

Roaming is gendered

Sam Sowerwine is the Senior Counsel for Justice Connect’s Homeless Response Team.

A community legal service, Justice Connect works on a wide range of social issues, ensuring that marginalized and disadvantaged people have access to the legal system and to legal education.

She said that “the lack of visibility makes it much more difficult to quantify the experience of homelessness for women. Admittedly, this is underestimated. There is also this real security issue.

The organization’s women’s homelessness prevention project aims to ensure that women victims of domestic and family violence can stay safely housed. They do this by providing an integrated service that not only helps women with legal needs, but also connects them with other social services, such as counseling and housing.

As such, their team provides both lawyers and social workers to deliver what they describe as a “wrap around” service.

Sam Sowerwine is the Senior Counsel for Justice Connect’s Homeless Response Team. She says the “lack of visibility makes it much more difficult to quantify the experience of homelessness for women. Admittedly, this is underestimated. There is also this real security problem ‘ [Ali MC/Al Jazeera]

Sam said the combination of the lack of social housing and unaffordable private rentals means women are unable to find suitable accommodation.

“Once women are entrenched in homelessness, it is so much more difficult for them to access safe and suitable housing,” she said. “And the indirect impacts for them and for the children are so huge.”

The fact that many women remain largely responsible for raising children after a relationship has ended also creates financial pressure, especially when it comes to housing affordability and the rising cost of living.

Other financial pressures include financial inequalities in the workplace – women being paid less than men – and lack of savings.

Unsurprisingly, the stresses of financial insecurity, relationship breakdown, the responsibility of raising children, and domestic violence are often inevitably exacerbated by mental illness.

“So they are stuck in a real cycle of housing crisis, couch surfing [as a result of] a lack of stable housing options, ”Sam said.

“We are the mothers, the aunts”

For indigenous women like Naomi, there are even more cases of domestic violence.

On average, Indigenous women are at least 35 times more likely to be hospitalized for spousal and family violence than non-Indigenous women.

Yet in recent years Naomi has managed to turn her life around, recently moving to Queensland to disassociate herself from her violent past and focus on raising her children in a safe environment.

She also works in the community legal sector, where she hopes to make a difference in the lives of other Indigenous peoples.

She is passionate about healing the trauma of women who have experienced violence and believes that programs should be offered in which women who have been victims of domestic violence have the opportunity to tell their stories to abusers in prison.

“[Perpetrators] are all part of our community, so we can’t lock them up and throw away the key. They will eventually come home – and then what? And what part do we, as aboriginal women, have in this process? ” she asks.

“Wouldn’t it be better for these men – our men – to hear it directly from the woman, from the injured woman. Like – ‘that’s how you made me feel, that’s what’s happening. You are not only hurting us, you are hurting our children, you are hurting our community.

“We are the women, the mothers, the aunts,” she said. “We women are part of this healing. “

This series was supported by the city of Yarra.


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