Denise* never imagined herself being homeless. With three children and 12 grandchildren, she’d earned a living as a shearer and a carer. But a history of domestic abuse from her partner, which spiralled into a drug addiction, meant she had to get out, and finding a safe new home has not been easy.
Parramatta Catholic Foundation’s Bishop’s Christmas Appeal is raising funds to help Catholic Care Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains to support people facing tough circumstances, like Denise.
Fifty-six-year-old Denise and her family moved to Australia from New Zealand in 1997.
“I was with my ex-partner for about 33 years, and there was a lot of domestic violence,” she says.
“And then in the year 2000, we went down a bad path and then got addicted to drugs.
“Nearly seven years ago I wanted to give it up and my partner didn’t. He’d become really toxic and the violence got worse. My daughters had moved to the Central Coast, so I decided to follow them and that’s when I got away from that scene and got off the drugs and changed my life for the better. It was pretty hard.”
Denise says it took her a long time to gather up the courage to leave her partner. The years of shearing had taken their toll on her back, leaving her in crippling pain and unable to work.
“It was just the thought of being on my own, and I didn’t have money. I didn’t have anywhere to go … until my daughters moved to the Central Coast and then I had somewhere to go,” she says.
When the place where Denise and one of her daughters were living in went up for sale, they had to find a new home urgently. Not wanting to be a burden on her children, Denise went in search of an affordable place to stay.
“I just travelled for a little while, camping,” she says. “I had a swag and I stopped at free camping spots if I could find them and felt safe enough, or I’d have to pay for camping.
“And then I went back to the Central Coast, but still couldn’t find anything.”
Denise cast her rental net wider and eventually secured a rental property in Western Sydney.
“I was pretty stoked and set it up, had it looking nice, but there was so much wrong with it. The house wasn’t healthy for me to be there,” she says.
“Heavy rain would pour through the bathroom roof. Every time I turned the light switch on, I’d get a shock. There was so much mould, and the house was infested with cockroaches.”
Denise didn’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. Despite her best efforts, her physical and mental health deteriorated with every day she spent in that uninhabitable house.
A referral from Services NSW to Catholic Care and its Assistance with Care and Housing service changed Denise’s life, when Case Manager Georgie arrived to provide emotional and practical support.
Georgie listened to her troubles, helped her navigate Centrelink, and fill out housing applications.
“Catholic Care helped me to do my application for housing, so I’m finally on the housing list,” Denise said. “They’ve helped me out with food parcels, and they’re just so lovely. They treat you like a human being and you can tell they really care.”
With a waiting list of up to 10 years for public housing, Catholic Care assisted Denise to find a safe and healthy private rental. She is now living comfortably in a clean, dry, and safe home – and looking forward to spending Christmas with her grandchildren.
Asked what it means to have people support the work of Catholic Care, Denise says: “It means everything.”
“Not only what they’ve done for me physically … but the friendship, feeling like they care about you.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without Catholic Care.”
To help Catholic Care support more people like Denise to find a place to call home, please donate to the Bishop’s Christmas Appeal on (02) 8838 3482 or visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/bishops-christmas-co-appeal-22
Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist and contributor to Catholic Outlook.
*Denise’s name has been changed to protect her privacy