When our team at BaptistCare HopeStreet first met Natalie last summer she hadn’t showered in a week, she was homeless, and living in a broken-down car with her abusive partner.
The couple had left Sydney with the promise of a new life and a well-paid farm management position. After years of abuse and greater family trauma, there was hope that this opportunity would set them on a new path. However, the couple never arrived at their destination. The car blew up on the highway. In the searing heat with little cash to spare, they found themselves in limbo in a strange town.
“There were times that weren’t nice. I often wouldn’t know where I was sleeping that night, whether I’d be stuffed into the car, in a hotel or couch surfing,” said Natalie.
Natalie’s naturally positive disposition allowed her to view life as an adventure even in the hardest times when the rest of us see only helplessness and despair. “The experiences were absolutely horrible. But even when I had to sleep in a squat I could convince myself it was like camping,” said Natalie.
It took three weeks for the mechanics to come back with a quote they couldn’t afford. They missed their window for the job. The new boss regrettably passed the position on to someone else.
Natalie knew of Jacob’s* mental health issues. She knew of his childhood and his family history. She knew the job loss was hard on him and when he decided to take drugs, she knew they would only make matters so much worse.
“I guess I was lenient toward him because of what I knew. I wouldn’t have stayed with him for so long if he hadn’t meant the world to me. I met him two days after my father passed away,” said Natalie.
“He was angry with himself but I copped all of it. He got out of control. He thought he was God. His addiction had gotten so bad he started stealing for the drugs.”
Natalie’s ex-partner is now serving jail time for just one of the many times he physically harmed her to the point of causing disability. Two years ago, Jacob backhanded her when he was drunk causing permanent blindness in one of her eyes.
“When I first went to HopeStreet, I’d never asked for help before. I didn’t like the thought of people going out of their way for me. Everyone there made me feel very comfortable,” said Natalie.
Christina, who would later become Natalie’s Client Support Worker, said every time Natalie walked through the door she received a warm welcome. “We’d make sure she always knew there was help if she needed it. We could see she was hurting. She would cry every time we were kind to her.”
“I think she had been made to feel very disempowered and made to feel invisible. HopeStreet enabled her to feel like she was part of a community again, and that people cared for her.”
“That first shower was amazing,” said Natalie. “All my stuff was in the car, I couldn’t find anything so they gave me fresh clothes, fresh knickers and socks. They gave me a nice feed. I didn’t just go back for the food, I went back because I felt like I belonged.”
At BaptistCare HopeStreet, we know the price of domestic and family violence all too well. We see women living in distress every day, terrorised and vulnerable. We come alongside them to help them have new choices and rebuild their lives.
We also work with men who are seeking to move beyond their destructive behaviour to break the cycle of abuse and help them be accountable and make better choices.
As well as hearty meals, a shower, clean clothes and an uplifting, non-judgemental community, our HopeStreet teams deliver personal and caseworker support.
On top of all this, we were able to connect Natalie with the local Assertive Outreach Team who found her secure temporary accommodation, and then a long-term rental flat.
“We were able to help Natalie with linen, towels, pots and furniture, everything she needed to make her home feel like home,” said Christina.
Natalie says she’ll pinch herself every morning for the rest of her life. “I have a home with my own little balcony! To walk into my kitchen and cook is amazing.”
“Christina and the HopeStreet team bought me pots and cookbooks, they know I love my cooking; it’s something I really enjoy and am good at. Linen, soft towels, and I needed a shower curtain, so there’s a brand new shower curtain. It was overwhelming, I cried and cried.”
For the first time in a long time Natalie feels safe and happy. “I’m not being told what to do, I don’t have to step on eggshells, it’s nice to not have that,” said Natalie.
“I feel I’ve made friends for life at HopeStreet. They are not just people who have helped me, I consider them as friends I will be close to for a long time.”
“When you’re in a place where you have no hope and you’ve hit rock bottom, it’s important to have those people around you," said Natalie.
While allocating necessary time to her healing, Natalie would like to study and specialise in helping people impacted by domestic and family violence. “I would really like to do the TAFE Cert 4 in Alcohol and Other Drugs, then a Diploma, and help others who are going through what I’ve been through.”
Join us as we walk beside the real lives and beating hearts in our neighbourhoods. All women have a right to live a life free from violence. Will you help us? Your generous support will help us continue to provide safety, support and vital services to women escaping violence.
If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic or family violence, please call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or ACT Domestic Violence Crisis 24-hour Service line on 6280 0900. In an emergency, call 000.
*Names have been changed. Images are for illustration purposes.