Imagine a homeless person. Put your images and perceptions front of mind. What are you seeing?
Would it be soup kitchens, a dishevelled appearance, someone you walk past sleeping rough in a doorway and a fleeting, unbidden thought that there must be substance abuse or fault somewhere along the line?
There have always been issues with this stereotyping, but as I’ve discovered over the last couple of weeks, never more than now.
You see, I met Carly.
Carly had been living with her son Cooper and her dad and they’d been a tight little family unit for the last 16 years.
They moved into their home nine years ago, and after four, were joined by Mitchy, a dog bought for Cooper’s anxiety who had no idea how important she was about to become.
At the end of last year, the landlord didn’t renew their lease. It then went up by $130 a week and they had to find a new place.
Cooper was going into Year 12. Carly worked from home and she had some savings squirrelled away.
She was devastated to lose their home, but in the end, as she had a job, she thought the biggest problem would be the hassle of the move.
And then she went to her first inspection … with more than 50 other people.
And then her next one and the next one.
Three hundred inspections later and all of a sudden the cash was gone and she had to finish up her work because she didn’t have a home base where she could take calls.
She had never asked for help before, but the first time she had to stand in line through a busy shopping centre waiting for help at Centrelink, she could do nothing but cry in front of those gawking.
That was the moment she realised she had nowhere else to go.
Friends and family had already been lent on – not that she found it easy to ask for help – and many of the support services were so stretched in trying to help people she thought deserved it more than her, she knew she wouldn’t get a look in.
After all, surely a woman fleeing domestic violence should be taken care of before someone like her.
And so, all she was left with was her car.
Her late model Holden that wouldn’t be out of place pulling up at a schmancy eastern suburbs café, was now her family’s home.
Cooper slept in it with her for one night, but his six-foot-four frame made an uncomfortable existence unbearable, so he had to leave her and is couch surfing at a mate’s, whilst working midnight to eight at the markets, getting himself to school and then heading to his second job for the afternoon and early evening.
Carly’s never been prouder of him.
She’s also never felt like she’s let her son down more.
In her words: “My one job as a mother is to put a roof over his head, and I haven’t been able to do that.” She keeps going over and over everything that’s happened, and she couldn’t have done anything differently.
She can’t understand why big multi-level car parks are left vacant at night instead of being opened for people like her…
With her blessing, I joined her one night.
I didn’t want this to be an act of poverty porn. It was almost like I had to see it to believe it: that we have people in this lucky country, in one of the world’s most “liveable” cities, sleeping in their cars because there aren’t enough homes.
Rebecca Day, Director of Trove Property Management, looks after more than 1600 properties south of the city and she said that in her 18 years she has never seen anything like this.
While rental numbers had been on the slow decline over the last few years, Covid has thrown up curve ball after curve ball: returning ex-pats, tenants choosing to exit shared accommodation, building supply issues, interest-only loan knockbacks and soaring house prices.
Median rents have increased by more than 30% in some areas and, considering a landlord’s safest bet is to not have more than 30% of a tenant’s income committed to weekly rent, you now have to earn $75,000 to get yourself a standard home, all whilst cost of living far outstrips wage increases.
And of course, even if you have the cash, you still must be able to beat everyone else to it.
So here we come back to Carly’s conundrum.
She has a job waiting for her if she can find a home.
She will then be able to afford rent and the government won’t have to pay her way anymore.
Her issue is though, “what’s the point in applying for homes now because if they wouldn’t look at me when I had several incomes coming in, why would they look at me now?”
And so, she cooks her dinner on a free BBQ at a family park north of Adelaide.
She rarely eats there as she doesn’t feel safe after dark, so she packs Mitchy in the car, scoffs her meal and then starts driving closer to town to start her evening routine.
Then it’s a toilet stop and water bottle fill up at a sympathetic petrol station, finding a well-lit car park so she can reorganise the car to hide away the meal dishes and get her bed sorted, and then back in the car again to find somewhere safe to sleep.
Yes, there is the threat of someone nefarious doing her harm, but I got the distinct impression she’s more worried about being moved on by security guards – some sympathetic, some not – which is why she’s on her third iteration of window coverings.
Towels are just stupid and too obvious; black felt the best as it draws away the condensation.
She spends her day researching homeless support systems through her council area.
She can’t understand why big multi-level car parks are left vacant at night instead of being opened for people like her so they can at least crack a window and get some fresh air safely.
And why can’t she apply for a key that would give her access to some accessible toilets after dark, instead of having to beg through the night window of a servo just to be able to relieve herself?
We have just been through an unprecedented time, which is having unprecedented fallout and will need unprecedented solutions.
With Carly seeing more and more people living like her, we must rethink what homelessness looks like in South Australia.
Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily and ambassador for Hutt Street Centre.
Since writing this article, Carly has been offered temporary caravan accommodation. She has also been invited to speak to the Premier about her ideas for helping people in her situation.
Local News Matters
Media diversity is under threat in Australia – nowhere more so than in South Australia. The state needs more than one voice to guide it forward and you can help with a donation of any size to InDaily. Your contribution goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. Please click below to help InDaily continue to uncover the facts.