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The grim reality of poverty in Adelaide's suburbs


Long-term unemployment and the poverty that comes with it can have serious consequences for mental and physical health. David* writes about the difficulties of trying to get a job, while struggling to survive.

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Over the past 18 months I have either applied for or sent a declaration of interest to 429 job advertisements. From all this effort I have had only two face-to-face interviews and two phone interviews.

Now I have not been aiming too high in the type of jobs I have applied for. I only apply for jobs in wine shops, liquor stores, supermarkets, hardware stores and wineries. These are easily in line with my experience and skill set.

Most applications are online and there has been some ‘door knocking’. In my opinion the online applications are a waste of time but I have to persist as my budget prohibits me from doing much.

Looking back over all my applications it has only been the big supermarket chains and their affiliates who have bothered to respond. From the countless other applications I have heard nothing. This lack of recognition just compounds my mental health. So in the last two months this process of job hunting has virtually stopped as I have “hit the wall”. After every rejection it gets harder and harder with hope just diminishing. It hurts because I have much to offer and many skills.

I am grateful to Centrelink and my job provider as they both are good and I know in other countries I would be dead.

But it doesn’t help when your day-to-day is just one continuous cycle. I wake around 9am and lately there’s not much to look forward to. I sometimes treat myself to a coffee and if I have any money I will shop – but that is rare.

I live in real fear of gas and electricity bills.

That morning coffee you grab every day on the way to work is one of my greatest joys. That hot cup of brew gets me out of my “prison” and into fresh air where I interact with people.

Most of my food I get on Fridays from an amazing charity called Food for the Community. This helps to keep me alive and eat well. I’m a good cook and love being in the kitchen, I usually only eat one meal a day and the main meat I cook is chicken, sometimes mince. I am used to hunger: it’s okay and not too bad after a while.

I don’t drink – that’s a luxury beyond me, as is entertainment. I can only afford what is on free to air TV.

After my occasional coffee I usually start searching for work via one of the four job apps that I use. But lately there have been less and less jobs to apply for.

So the remainder of my time is often filled watching television or reading. I also have a daily one hour chat with one of my kids who lives interstate.

I find it difficult to sleep, so often I don’t go to bed until 1.30am or 2.30am. I know it’s not good for my mental health but I feel I exist, not live.

The stress of poverty means it is hard to go to bed early. Late at night is nice and quiet – no-one is ringing or texting me chasing money. The letterbox and unknown phone numbers are my enemy.

When I do finally sleep I’ve found that my dreams are about debt and stress. There have also been occasions where I have been so down that all I could do was go to bed. Escape. It’s wrong to do that but the stress was crippling me.

Living with no job or viable income has had a massive toll on my body too. My last trip to the dentist was two-three years ago and my eyes are due for a check up but I can’t afford new glasses. I’m also battling pre-diabetes. You see, being poor I can’t afford to eat what I should. A simple salad is a luxury so I eat what’s cheap like white foods such as bread, rice and pasta. It’s never junk food or treats. That’s a luxury.

I have become much more emotional and am more easily prone to crying in hopelessness with a sense of failure. Many times I have been close to eviction. But the owner of where I live and, to a degree, the real estate company have been quite good to me. Eviction is my major stress. If I become homeless then I don’t know what I’ll do.

While I live in this cycle I feel brittle, damaged and hurt.

Prior to the last 18 months I had been living on savings. Once that ran out then it was Newstart. A Newstart allowance is $660 per fortnight of which $540 is spent on rent in my small flat near Prospect.

On that income I can’t afford second hand clothes very often, I shave with blunt razor blades as new ones are too expensive and I live in real fear of gas and electricity bills. I have not had a heater on for two winters now and lights at night are a waste.

Then there is the constant stress of the outstanding bills. Of course I have no insurance and my superannuation is not growing. That really scares me as I am getting older and have no health cover or protection at all.

I am very lucky to have a car of sorts but this has been vandalised due to having a broken door lock that I couldn’t afford to fix. As for car registration I dread that too. Unfortunately registration can’t be paid off in instalments like my utilities. It is also exempt from the usual discounts offered to those on a health care card or similar. My car tyres are next – just another thing to dread.

As like all homes, appliances are breaking and clothes are worn but I really have to make do with what I have. That’s all I can do.

I know the only way out is to have a job with sufficient hours. It’s kind of weird but to do that you need to have a sense of security and not be so immersed in trying to survive. My creativity and lateral thinking is almost gone. I’m in survival mode, which is disappointing as you need to be creative and resourceful when you’re job hunting. You also need to be positive and that’s taken a big hit.

But I don’t seek sympathy: I am responsible for my predicament and don’t blame anyone. I don’t get jealous or angry. You see despite all this I have passion and love life. I am grateful to be here, and to have reasonable health and friends and family – and thank goodness for the Crows.

In recent years I have tried to live by, ”it’s not what you have but what you leave behind”. So as I sit here I think of how often it’s the poor helping the poor. I have in the past helped many of the poor in another country as well as here with Food for the Community charity.

Yet despite the positivity I mine, the daily poverty I experience takes it toll. My mental health is a daily challenge and I don’t need to be diagnosed with an illness to realise it’s not good. While I live in this cycle I feel brittle, damaged and hurt.

*We haven’t used David’s full name at his request.

InDaily is publishing a series of stories to mark Mental Health Week, produced with the cooperation of the Mental Health Coalition of SA.

If this story has raised issues for you, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636.

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