"I became homeless with two little boys. I couch-surfed or looked after them at their dad’s place, while he was at work. When I didn’t have them with me, I slept in my car.”
Cathy* loved being a mum. She doted on her two beautiful girls while happily married and living in the suburbs. “Life was good then, I loved being a mum. That was the best job in the world. I had my family around. Everything was good,” said Cathy.
However, Cathy was hiding a dark, destructive secret. You see, since the age of 13, she’d been abusing substances to relieve the pain of her mental illness.
Cathy is one of the many thousands of Australians experiencing a number of complex issues that, over time, spiral to homelessness. It’s something we see everyday. Contributing factors include relationship breakdowns, having no support system, financial crisis or job loss, domestic violence, mental health and addiction issues, and a chronic shortage of affordable housing.
“I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) when I was 13,” said Cathy. As if this wasn’t hard enough, Cathy navigated her formative years largely on her own, “My family were aware of what was happening, but they didn’t know how to help. They pretended it didn’t exist.”
At school, Cathy was a high achieving student until she was confronted by an all-toocommon problem. School-yard bullying resulted in her getting punched in the face. “I was a good student up until that, then I didn’t want to be there anymore. I left after Year Ten, and got a job.” At only sixteen, Cathy felt she was in a hopeless situation.
“I thought life was terrible. I didn’t want to be here. I had made suicide attempts.”
When Cathy met the man who would become her husband and father her girls, she shared a lot with him about her past, but he never knew the extent of her substance abuse. “I wasn’t being honest with him or myself. My husband didn’t know that I was using drugs daily,” Cathy said. “I guess I have always felt that I was leading a double life. I always put on a mask.”
Over time their marriage broke down. When they separated, they shared the care of the girls. “I loved being a mum. As a single mum, I had good support. The girls always came first.”
However when Cathy met another man, life took another turn. “I fell pregnant twice quickly. I never used drugs while I was pregnant, so I had been clean for a while.” While battling post-natal depression and life with two girls and two young boys, Cathy lost her grandmother to pneumonia, and it rocked her world.
“My youngest was born in October, and I lost my Nan in December. From there everything spiralled. I used drugs again to deal with the grief,” said Cathy.
“Nan was my best friend – she was just my everything.” At this point, Cathy’s mental health was at an all-time low. “I wasn’t stable mentally at all. My boys' dad then left me for another woman. I couldn’t leave the house for eight weeks. I just sat and cried.”
Seeing this, Cathy’s ex-husband removed the girls from her completely. “He took them off me and didn’t let me see them.” Despite court proceedings, to this day, Cathy hasn’t seen her eldest children. “As soon as I lost my girls, I gave up on everything else.”
“I lost the private rental I was in as I was behind in my rent. I was on drugs, I was mentally incapable of being able to problem solve.”
“I became homeless with two little boys. I couch-surfed or looked after them at their dad’s place, while he was at work. When I didn’t have them with me, I slept in my car.”
Cathy was homeless and battling depression, anxiety and OCD, as well as drug addiction. She was suicidal and could see no solutions. She felt her family had pulled away from her.
“My mental health was extremely bad at this stage. I couldn’t remember things. I couldn’t function in normal society. I wasn’t working. I wasn’t looking after myself,” said Cathy. “I could only meet the basic needs of the boys during the day.” It was then, her ex-partner stepped in and took their boys.
Cathy was alone, living in her car, often sleeping on the beach, carrying a weapon for security. She was at a complete low when she took a brave step.
Cathy came to HopeStreet, and met Dianne. After a nutritious meal and a hot private shower, Cathy discovered a community where she could gain support without judgement. “You meet people who’ve been in the same situations as you. They don’t judge,” said Cathy.
“We provide a space where people can be comfortable and address key issues in their lives, in their own time,” says Dianne, a Manager at HopeStreet.
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Despite some progress, it wasn’t until Cathy had a drug-induced psychosis, and subsequent hospitalisation that she realised she had to work with doctors to treat her illness. “I stuck with the doctors until they found medication that worked for me,” said Cathy. “But I was still in denial that drugs were causing all the bad things in my life.”
That changed when Cathy witnessed her new partner, who she met in hospital, becoming violent toward her when he was coming down from drugs. “I didn’t know how to get out, get help or even function.” And after being strangled, tied up and gagged for days, Cathy escaped and fled for her life.
“The day he untied me, I ran to HopeStreet. Dianne took me straight to the police station. It was my turning point. I’d be dead if I hadn’t turned up to HopeStreet and seen Dianne.”
“For the first time in my life, I hated drugs and what they were about. Ever since then, I’ve been in a day program. I have been clean since November, and am proud of myself.”
Staying on the right medication, Cathy clung to the community at HopeStreet, and engaged with the support there to reclaim her life including counselling for the domestic violence. “Apart from helping with practical needs, HopeStreet provides access to counselling, housing support, and learning programs that foster independence and build resilience,” said Dianne.
“I feel so much better. I feel wonderful. It’s not until you get clean, that you get clarity,” said Cathy. After a few months, Cathy was accepted into a boarding house, and now lives in a place big enough to raise her children and call home.
“I am able to have the boys every weekend, and I pick them up from school on Mondays. My boys are coming back into my life, which is great.”
“I see my family once a week. They’re really proud of me. They’ve said they’ll stand by me as long as I’m trying to get better.”
“For so many years I masked my emotions. Now I’m learning how to work through emotions and deal with life without drugs.”
“I have sat down and written my older girls a letter. I hope to meet them again one day. They’re now 13 and 15.”
Will you help us continue to provide a place where people like Cathy, can experience long-lasting change?