Homelessness – Myth vs Reality

This guest blog is written by Sharni, is a member of the Lived Experience Advisory Group (LEAG) and tackles three myths about homelessness.

“Growing up I had a vision of what my life would be. Becoming a young mum at 16, I imagined this beautiful ‘normal’ life for myself and my child. Never did I imagine that homelessness was in our future.

Myth #1: Homelessness is for men in their 30s, 40s and 50s who would rather spend their money on drugs and alcohol than on housing and bills.

Right? I wasn’t one of those people so surely homelessness wasn’t something I needed to worry about. WRONG!

Homelessness can happen to anyone. My first experience of homelessness was when I was just a 14 year old girl.

I had to make an impossible choice between being alone on the street, cold and hungry or to remain in a violent and abusive home and be subject to horrific acts of child abuse. But was it really a choice?

Myth #2: Some people believe that homelessness is a choice.

But more often than not there is no other choice or it is simply the lesser of two evils. There was a time in 2016 when I lost custody of my children due to domestic violence.

For three years prior, I had stayed with my perpetrator, enduring physical and verbal abuse to keep my children from being without the most basic human right – shelter.

However, this wasn’t enough to protect my children and so we left. I found a safer, more stable arrangement for the kids, but not for myself. Since that time I have struggled, falling in and out of homelessness.

Going from one form of unstable housing to the next, but seemingly a slightly better situation each move.

Myth #3: Many believe that the homelessness we see on the streets is all there is.

At first I was on the streets, sleeping on concrete, grassy patches or doorways and steps in the CBD, trying to catch a nap on someone’s couch or in a car, stealing a snooze in the library on a beanbag or a sofa, all kinds of rough sleeping.

Eventually I found an abandoned building which my partner and I managed to set up as a reasonable squat for about five months. Our squat had no electricity or lighting, there was running water but no kitchen or bathroom to run water to.

There was a tiny basin and a toilet though which made it feel almost luxurious. A little blow up mattress and a couple of candles and I was the cosiest I had been in a long time.

After the squat I spent time in supported crisis accommodation before an unsuccessful attempt at a private rental which just landed me back in the dodgy unregistered share house where my partner and I currently live.

There’s no lease and no guarantee we can stay. I have a weekly discussion with my partner about our ‘what if’ plans if it falls through. Our situation still feels very precarious and the options seem so limited.

The street homelessness that you may see is only the tip of the iceberg – there are so many more people experiencing homelessness ‘out of sight’, living in unsafe rooming houses, squats, overcrowded dwellings, or couchsurfing. It’s far more than meets the eye.

I’m sharing a little of my personal experience in the hope that people see the reality behind some common misperceptions of homelessness, and are motivated to be part of the solution.”