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homeless I used to think that I knew what a homeless person looked likeTen years ago my life could not have been better. I had a good job and a large circle of friends; I was expecting my first child, planning to get married and living in a great apartment in the inner city.

I used to think that I knew what a homeless person looked like. I thought that maybe their bad choices that had put them on the street; perhaps they had an addiction, no family support, a lack of education or simply no drive to improve their circumstances. How wrong was I?

Almost overnight, my life changed dramatically when the relationship I was in broke down due to domestic violence. I had to flee that situation, leave my job and with that, shatter all my dreams. I became a single mother with no security, and for the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to struggle.

But I survived. I moved to the suburbs, rented an apartment and took a casual job as a cleaner as my daughter started school.

In 2008 I decided to go back to university to update my qualifications as a graphic designer. I wanted to get a good job to support myself and my daughter.

Financially, things got worse. My rent increased, my daughter’s child support was not being paid and I was getting deeper into debt.

I sold everything we owned to try and stay in my private rental but eventually I was evicted.

Now with a bad rental history, no bond and no job, my chance of getting back into the private rental market was virtually impossible. I was homeless.

My friends had long moved on and I had nowhere to turn. We stayed with family here and there while I finished my Diploma but we couldn’t rely on other people forever.

I was told I had a 15 -20 year wait to be housed so my next port of call was a charity.

The staff there were welcoming and non judgemental of my situation.

I was shocked to find out how so many other families were in a similar situation to me.

I was amazed at how widespread this problem seemed to be. I did not want to put my daughter through that process and was determined to get us housed somehow.

When you are homeless everything breaks down. If you don’t get help, you don’t eat properly, you get rundown, your appearance declines your self esteem plummets. You lose touch with people and your employability decreases. It’s a downward spiral.

Today, my life is getting better. I have graduated from university with great employment prospects, found permanent affordable Government supported housing and gradually I am rebuilding both mine and my daughter’s life. I will never forget the trauma and shame of not having enough food to feed my family but I will also never forget what others have done for me.

To support people like Jennifer*, donate $20 to the Food For Families Appeal www.foodforfamilies.com.au and help feed a disadvantaged family this Christmas.

*name has been changed to protect privacy.

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