Lee’s journey to Windale, one of New South Wales most disadvantaged suburbs, saw her arrive with a suitcase and nothing else.

Isolated and knowing no one, Lee’s first sense of belonging was when she arrived on the doorstep of BaptistCare HopeStreet to buy some low-cost food.

Well-educated and from a stable and loving family, Lee’s ‘former life’ saw her married with children for 16 years, and living in the suburbs of Melbourne. With the breakdown of her marriage, Lee entered a new relationship. Moving to Queensland to be closer to Lee’s father, the new relationship became violent and Lee found herself a victim of domestic and family violence.

“He put me in hospital a few times and went to jail twice for what he did to me. Why did I stay? You can’t explain it unless you’ve been in those shoes. When I look back now, I think ‘Gee Lee, you were so vulnerable.’ He’d be nice for a little while but each time it seemed to get worse,” she recalls.

“The abuse was endless. He’d say things like ‘I wish your eyes were brown and not blue, I hate your hair colour. It’s time to come to bed now, you’re not allowed to finish watching that movie.’”

Lee was employed in the medical industry, but the violence she was experiencing escalated, and she stopped working.

“I then tried working part time in a local motel, cleaning rooms and working on Reception. One morning before work he grabbed the back of my head and smashed it on the shower recess. I cleaned myself up and quickly got to work for the day. I remember thinking ‘This is it. He is going to kill you unless you run.’ I packed a suitcase which I hid under the bed, and left that night.”

Though she escaped to her father’s initially, Lee didn’t want to burden her elderly father. Homeless and travelling south into New South Wales, Lee connected with a housing service for women. She was provided with emergency accommodation in the Newcastle area, and shortly after was provided with a bedsit in Windale, across the road from BaptistCare HopeStreet Community Centre.

Unemployed, depressed and traumatised from violence, it was only nine months ago that Lee first arrived at HopeStreet, seeking assistance with low cost food.

“The first time I turned up at HopeStreet was hard. I never expect anyone to help me out, I’ve normally been pretty independent. But I really needed help.”

“The first time I had some money, I couldn’t afford the big supermarkets. It was empowering to be able to turn up and afford some food. I could buy my own groceries, it wasn’t given to me, and it felt good. And I was never made to feel like I was a beggar. The staff said ‘Come in, you’re not the only one.’ I always felt welcome.”

“Arriving in Windale, I felt isolated and I didn’t know anyone. Of course it’s a matter of getting to know people, but every time I turned up at HopeStreet, I felt like I belonged. They were strangers, but even in the beginning, I felt like I was part of a little family.”

Lee also applied for an interest free loan via HopeStreet’s No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS), and purchased a fridge. The loans enable people living on low incomes to purchase essential household items, without resorting to fast-cash traps such as payday lenders and loan sharks.

“I’ve only got one month to go to pay it off. I pay $10 a week, and now I own a fridge. You need a fridge; you can’t survive without a fridge.”

With the support of the HopeStreet team, Lee made moves to retrain and seek employment. But after starting a course in the aged and disability sector, a work injury early in her training saw her in hospital and unable to continue.

“I was so close, so close to getting everything back together. I know things will work out but at times it feels like it’s just not fair!”

With the support of the HopeStreet Manager, Dave and Chaplain, Joy, Lee is slowly rebuilding her life.

“Some days are hard. Having depression means I might not get out of bed. But at the same time, what’s important to me right now is having a roof over my head. I have my own place which is affordable. And having HopeStreet across the road is an absolute godsend.”

“It’s a community around here, and they help you out. People are amazing. I feel like this is more of a home than what I’ve had in a long time. The people there have gone out of their way to help me. Even if it’s just a chat. It means a lot.”

BaptistCare HopeStreet in Windale is one of three HopeStreet community centres in the Hunter providing people living with disadvantage with a safe place to access support including no and low interest loans, a hot meal and low cost food, referrals and a sense of community. Staff, volunteers and chaplains come alongside people who are homeless, experiencing significant mental health and addiction issues, impacted by violence and unhealthy relationships, or the ‘working poor’ and those who are isolated and living on the margins.