You just never know: Lucy’s story

I had always been very independent. For seventeen years I’d brought up my two sons as a single mum and I had my youngest still at school. At that stage, I was renting privately, paying $400 a week and that was manageable on my nurse’s salary. I was very active: I nursed and did voluntary work and I was healthy and strong. While I wouldn’t say we were comfortable, we were able to do what we had to do. We were okay.

And then one day I got sick, very sick and eventually I had to give up work. I went on the Newstart allowance and suddenly the rent was taking out 95% of what I had. There was no money for anything else: electricity, food, nothing. And I didn’t have any family to turn to, they had all passed on: there was just me and the boys.

Things deteriorated quite quickly and I got so, so anxious I couldn’t even think. I got behind in bills and rent and the debt kept building up. That’s when I started collecting food for us from the dumpster behind a shop. I would never have imagined me doing that but it’s what happens. You do what you have to do, I guess.

It started because at that time, I had a pet rabbit and the fruit shop used to give me fruit and veg to feed him. One day they said to me, ‘Just help yourself out the back there. Take what you want.’ I went around and found myself sorting through the stuff they had thrown away and I remember thinking, ‘This is better than what I have in the fridge at home.’ So I started using a lot of that for cooking and things. I knew how to make the most of it. My parents had been brought up during the Depression and they never wasted anything.

When I found Bonnie’s I was in a bad way, about a week away from being homeless. I’d been seeing someone from the Benevolent Society to help me with my anxiety and she put me in contact with them. I didn’t know anything like that existed to help me. I thought NSW Housing was the only thing.

My family worker Jackie went into action straight away and found us a place. I was even able to take my cat which was so important to me. (He’s my beautiful companion.) I did have about 3 days sleeping rough (in my car) but then we went into this lovely townhouse and since then, life has improved so much for us. I’ve got most of my debt paid off and we’re doing quite well. My anxiety levels have gone way, way down and even though I’ve been diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease recently, we are okay. Bonnie’s have negotiated my disability allowance for me and that is going through. I would never have been able to do that by myself.

Housing is so much more than just a roof. When you’ve got big problems like having no place to live, your health takes the back seat. You’ve got to look after your housing situation and your bills first. Now that my life is more settled, I can concentrate on my health and get the help I need. I can go to the specialist without having to worry about whether I’m going to be on the street tomorrow.

I’d be happy to stay where we are forever because I love it but I know we can’t. It was a place to get me on my feet while I found something more permanent. While I’ve been here, Jackie my family worker helped me to organise all the paperwork to apply for priority housing. That’s an overwhelming task but now it’s been approved. She got me through and Bonnie’s are letting me stay here until my next place, a permanent place, is ready.

I don’t have to worry about being homeless again. I can be more confident. I know I’ll have somewhere to go.

Jackie and I used to have a lot of conversations about ‘you never know what is around the corner’. And that’s true. There I was this very independent woman, healthy mentally and physically: mowing lawns, cutting trees down, running around for the kids. And then I became this person who was relying on everybody else.

Every lady at Bonnie’s has got a set of angel wings. They really do. They’re beautiful human beings. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, you can always ring. They’ll always answer the phone and no matter whether it’s physical, emotional or financial, they’ll always be really helpful to you.

Not long ago Jackie said, ‘You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so you just do what you can do and enjoy each day.’ Three days later, Jackie suddenly passed away and we were all so sad to lose her.

I still say her words to myself and I’m in the process now of accepting what I’ve got and what life has brought. You just never know…