Last year, Henry* and his mum fled from violence into homelessness. This year, he started high school. Together they are breaking barriers to create a safe and stable home.
It was Henry, 11, who convinced his mum, Lucy* to flee. “I had to leave. It was a very violent situation. He’d physically stop us from leaving. He took my car keys. Let my tyres down. We were very isolated on a remote property, and he’d tell me to get out of his house then refuse to let me go. It was constant, until finally my son was the one who said, ‘Let’s just go’.
“After that, Henry and I were in the refuge for eight months, maybe longer. I was homeless, jobless, we had nothing. It was very challenging, especially for my son who hates to share his space. We were among other traumatised people. Henry just wasn’t settling. He wasn’t happy. He wasn’t leaving our room much at all.”
Lucy is among the 72,900 people who asked for help from specialist homelessness services in 2021-22, due to domestic violence.1
When we first met Lucy, she was desperately trying to care for her son while in a women’s refuge on a priority waitlist for housing. She was reeling with trauma and loss. “The shelter was like, here stand on your own two feet. I realised very quickly I couldn’t do that. For one, I’m too traumatised. And another, I don’t know how to. I’ve never had to navigate this.”
It wasn’t Lucy’s first experience with violence. In hindsight, Lucy can see the vicious cycle that began even before she was Henry’s age. “I was sexually abused at a young age by a family friend. It’s a cycle I can see clearly now. It comes from an unstable childhood and thinking that’s okay. The trauma, the violence, the substance use, you try to numb yourself. You really think that terrible relationship is all you are going to get,” said Lucy.
Our HopeStreet team was able to walk beside both Lucy and Henry, linking them with services, advocating for their housing journey, and providing ongoing support to give them more choices in life. One of the first services they were able to access was counselling as victims of crime.
Caseworker, Jana, says she has witnessed Lucy and Henry overcome major barriers in the last year. “What I have seen is incredible. Lucy engages and does the work. She puts one foot in front of the other. She shows up, she participates, she takes responsibility. Henry is still shy and closed off. We were able to link him with a Family Support Counsellor, and he is engaging well. For him to open up to someone has been really helpful,” said Jana.
Jana has helped in Henry’s transition into high school, advocating on his behalf for medical assessments to explore an Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis which will hopefully provide access to NDIS funding. Lucy said the ongoing counselling and connection has been extremely beneficial.
“We’re both working through the trauma. Henry’s counsellor is great. He’s helped him articulate how he felt about the abusive situation. I really didn’t know. I thought he would be scared or worried, turns out he was really angry.”
At the same time, every possible housing support service was explored. “If it wasn’t for HopeStreet, I’m sure we’d still be in the refuge. I was giving up hope. It’s impossible to gain housing in the private sector. You just can’t afford it. It’s not sustainable so even if you can afford it with assistance, you can’t afford it long-term,” said Lucy.
A month before Christmas, housing came through. Facing an empty house, Jana recalls Lucy being more stressed than she’d ever seen her. “She was like, okay, I have a house, but I have nothing. At the refuge she at least had a bed.”
Jana and our team provided Lucy and Henry with everything they could, from low-cost groceries to a chest of drawers and mattresses. “Outside of our scope, the community came together with beautiful tubs of kitchenware and laundry packs. I was able to get referrals to other support agencies to obtain whitegoods and yard mowing services,” Jana added.
Lucy is full of gratitude and is now able to actively participate in life, rather than worrying about where she and her son will sleep at night. She’s also studying a business course. “I have a home. Henry has his own space now. He’s spending time in the loungeroom with me. He’s playing with his Lego. We’ve adopted a cat which has been good for him. He’s a much happier child.”
“Beyond the practical help, Jana and the team have been my friends and my support network. Just having HopeStreet to fill in that gap and be my family for a little while has made such a difference.”
We're facing a housing crisis and women and children are fleeing violence to become homeless. Will you make a generous donation to help vulnerable women and children find a safe home?
If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through the online chat at www.1800respect.org.au, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are in danger, please call 000.
*Names have been changed. Images are for illustration purposes.
1AIHW, (2021): AIHW (2022): Specialist homelessness services annual report 2021–22