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18 August 2022
Gabbi’s journey from domestic violence to housing security
Words Holly Reed
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, Gabbi shares her story – from her 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 crossed with a fresh ‘Leased’ sticker, 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,” she says. “When they put that sticker on the sign … I finally had a home.”
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.
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 during a severe rental shortage, and with limited availability of social housing, Gabbi went from living in a severely rundown 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 was a string of people who took advantage of her vulnerability, including a relative, who took her in only to access her Centrelink payments.
Eventually, Gabbi contacted 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.
“When I started working with Gabbi, she was about to give up on making applications for private rental properties,” says Salvos support worker Trevor. “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 it 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.
“I’ve only had one thing on my mind for years and that is stable housing,” Gabbi says. “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.
“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 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.”
Having the stability of a home has allowed Gabbi to focus on getting a regular GP and psychologist, work on her mental health needs, and ensure 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 took 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] …”
* Name and some details changed
Homelessness services: salvationarmy.org.au/need-help/ homelessness-support-services
Family and domestic violence services: salvationarmy.org.au/need-help/ family-and-domestic-violence
Housing: salvationarmy.org.au/ need-help/housing