Staying on takes toll: domestic violence and homelessnes

By Myles Peterson

VincentCare Victoria’s chief says the threat of homelessness often has women remaining in abusive relationships.

After refusing to flee a violent marriage due to just such fears, a Shepparton woman found her life spiralling out of control. She ended up on the streets regardless.

Jane* came forward to tell her story in the hope of helping other women who find themselves in the same dire situation.

‘‘It’s never worth staying, it’s just going to get worse,’’ she said.

Fear of a life on the streets kept Jane in the thrall of a relationship that left her in hospital on numerous occasions, jobless and eventually homeless.

She lost her employment due to issues at home, was evicted along with her partner and witnessed a succession of friendships fail under the pressure of her predicament.

‘‘Your friends find it hard to watch you go through it,’’ Jane said.

‘‘I had five really strong girlfriends, but one by one they dropped off. After driving me to hospital, I’d go straight back home again. They said they couldn’t go through watching me do that any more.’’

Jane said family support also fell away as she refused to leave.

‘‘It was my second marriage, so I said I’d do anything to make it work,’’ she said.

She acknowledges that attitude was the greatest mistake of her life.

Homelessness began for Jane as a succession of temporary measures, couch surfing and sleeping in her car, initially in the company of her partner. Things rapidly deteriorated from there.

Small issues became major struggles. Car troubles she could not afford to fix had her life descend into bleak desperation.

She eventually escaped the relationship, but said it was too late.

Stranded interstate and alienated from friends and family, she was reduced to sleeping rough with no support, surviving day to day.

‘‘I’ve slept in public toilets. I’m not proud,’’ Jane said.

‘‘You get men offering to put you up for a night. But they’re expecting something. You learn that pretty quickly. I’ve had to walk out of a place at two in the morning because it’s not safe.’’

Today, Jane is on a path to recovery she credits to help she is receiving from Shepparton’s BeyondHousing and VincentCare Victoria’s Marian Community.

VincentCare Victoria’s chief executive John Blewonski said Jane’s story was all too familiar.

‘‘There is no disputing the fact that VincentCare sees that the number one cause of people entering homelessness is family violence, all the data would demonstrate that,’’ he said.

A new Victorian Government initiative is helping to alleviate the problem, putting $40million into organisations such as the Marian Community.

Coming as a result of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the new funding offers up to $10000 to support those seeking an exit strategy.

The money can be used on rent and accommodation and a range of safety measures, such as CCTV.

Jane regrets not seeking help and getting out soon enough, but hopes other women will not make the same mistakes and find themselves in similar tragic circumstances.

*Not her real name.

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, phone 1800 RESPECT on 1800737732 for advice or support. This free service provides confidential advice and is open 24/7. In an emergency, phone 000. All incidents of violence should be reported.