When Jan lost her husband and father of her children to suicide, it seemed like life had reached its lowest point. And yet, her grief was only the beginning. The tragic loss of the man she loved opened her up to be abused by another, who robbed her of her worldly possessions and in fleeing him, she found herself living in her car on the streets with her loyal old dog, Shy.
In her fifties, this static road-trip has been Jan's reality for five years now. Tonight, she'll be forced to move from one roadside to another, often several times before dawn. She is in constant search for safety.
"I thought I needed to be taken care of, but I was weak and tended to be victimised," Jan said of the turmoil after her husband's suicide.
She found herself seeking refuge in a man who saw her vulnerable state and capitalised on it with persistent emotional, social and financial abuse.
"He took everything away from me. He had control of my emotions, my happiness, my self-esteem. He had me worried and scared all the time," Jan said. "He would swing back and forth between caring for me and then crushing me."
"I came to realise I was in a vicious cycle. He was a gambler and a drinker, he eventually sponged all my money and I was left with nothing."
Domestic violence is the main cause of homelessness in Australia*
When Jan fled, she had her car, a tank of petrol, and her ageing yet loyal companion. "I live in my car with my nine-year-old dog, Shy. Looking after her gives me something to move me onto the next day," Jan said.
While her nights are filled with fear, she's found a silver lining in the form of the friendly faces at BaptistCare HopeStreet. It gives Jan somewhere safe to go during the day where she can connect with reliable help and practical support.
"The world outside is scary, but you learn to cope with things. I have to move around a lot, from spot to spot, but HopeStreet always feels like home," said Jan.
"The people here don't discriminate. BaptistCare HopeStreet gives me constant help and support. To talk, to eat, to be comfortable... it is safe here. I can always come back," Jan said.
Here, Jan does her laundry and enjoys a nutritious cooked meal and a safe hot shower. She has access to clothing, groceries, and practical help such as connection to other services and computers. More often than not, that hot meal might be the only one Jan and her companions eat that day. Beyond food provisions, HopeStreet provides a safe place where some of the most lonely and vulnerable people in our community are supported to address key issues, such as personal health, mental health and housing needs.
"We all need support. Doing it on your own is hard, but the staff here genuinely care," she said. HopeStreet Community Centre Manager Dianne says winter is the most challenging time."I know Jan, in particular, gets really cold. Even layering up can be a challenge, she's a petite woman, and we don't always get those smaller sizes donated."
Despite her ongoing challenges, Jan feels she has grown in confidence and awareness of her own happiness since accessing support from BaptistCare HopeStreet. "I don't need to rely on anyone else," says Jan. "I've got my independence back and I have a new awareness of my own happiness in being."
We know it's a long journey home from homelessness, particularly as the cold sets in this winter. Join us in standing with Jan and others who are on the long journey home.
With your generous donation and prayerful support, we can continue to deliver vital services for people like Jan who are out in the cold and experiencing homelessness this winter.
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.
*Domestic violence & Homelessness www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/culture/article/2017/06/29/tragic-reality-domestic-violence-main-cause-homelessness-australia.