Homelessness week 2022: ‘I had to grow up and be an adult at 16’

Photo by Megan Fisher

“I had to grow up and be an adult at 16.”

Madeline* endured domestic violence at the hands of her mum, and with her dad out of the picture from a young age, it was left up to her to raise her brothers.

It was after her father left that Madeline’s mother’s mental health deteriorated, leading to a worsening situation at home.

“Mum went downhill pretty quickly — I don’t blame her. It was something you shouldn’t have to go through, but mentally she wasn’t right and mentally still isn’t,” she said.

“It was really difficult just knowing I didn’t have parents caring for me.

“I could recognise all of her different signs. I knew if there was something that was about to tick her off and I knew exactly what to say in front of her, exactly what not to say.

“There was a lot of times I was sent to hospital, it got pretty severe. Most of the time the house was completely smashed up.”

Photo by Contributed

When she was 12, Madeline began running away to her nan’s house for a couple of nights before returning home.

She did this for a few years, but always ended up back at home.

At 16 Madeline ran away again — but this time was different. This time she was leaving for good.

“I had it all planned out. I had phones hidden in my bedroom, because I knew my mum was going to snap that night,” she said.

“My nan knew she was waiting on a call from me. I had three seconds hiding in the wardrobe to call her to come.

“I ran out and the next day I wanted to get my brothers out, but I couldn’t … If my brothers were to go to my nan’s it was considered kidnapping because they were younger.”

Madeline had been planning this escape for a while, stuffing her bag with clothes and stowing them in her locker, keeping them at her nan’s or partner’s homes, or taking them to school and handing them off to her cousin.

“Everything was everywhere, but as long as my stuff was out of my mum’s house, that was all I cared about,” she said.

Between school and a job on the weekends, Madeline was in survival mode — trying to balance work and her education while coming to terms with her trauma.

“It stripped a lot from me,” Madeline said.

“I just couldn’t be bothered to walk to school because it was so far and I was constantly having to walk, to a point where my attendance was so bad that I couldn’t go anymore.”

Madeline’s nan became increasingly sick and eventually she was unable to care for Madeline, leaving her to seek accommodation at the Youth Foyer.

“No-one’s seeing you go through some pretty tough stuff. It’s not like I can go out and go to a party whenever I want to. I hated it so much because I would think, ‘you have no idea what I’ve been through’.” — Madeline

Being a minor and living on her own meant that Madeline needed extra income support, with her weekend job unable to fund her everyday expenses.

As such, Madeline turned to Centrelink, which proved to be more of a hindrance than help.

“I wasn’t on Centrelink, because my mum had to sign papers, and she didn’t want to sign them,” she said.

“I’d tell Centrelink why I needed the money, which was because there was domestic violence at home, and they’d ring my mum and ask if she’d done it and of course she’d say no.”

Photo by Megan Fisher

Once Madeline moved into Youth Foyer she started receiving the support she needed to get through school and live a somewhat normal life.

However, this didn’t stop Madeline from facing significant obstacles and stigma.

“At school I remember everyone used to be like, ‘that’s so cool, I wish I was living on my own’, and ‘that’s awesome, you can do whatever you want’,” Madeline said.

“No-one’s seeing you go through some pretty tough stuff. It’s not like I can go out and go to a party whenever I want to. I hated it so much because I would think, ‘you have no idea what I’ve been through’.”

“There is the stigma of people not having sympathy and just assuming that we’ve put this on ourselves and decided to choose drugs and drop out of school. A lot of comments are ‘you chose this for your life’.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing or at risk of homelessness, call 1800 825 955 to speak with a housing and support worker from Beyond Housing. If you need urgent mental health support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.