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It took Rima and her newborn son six years to find a home to call their own.

Rima fell pregnant at 29 and her parents were not happy. They kicked her out. She lived with friends. A baby was growing inside of her and she had no where to go.

“I had a cesarean and was in hospital,” Rima told Mamamia. “My mum came in and said ‘I hope you have somewhere to live’. I told her I did, but I didn’t really. The hospital tried to find somewhere for me to go. I lived with a friend for a few weeks. Then a counsellor I knew found me a refuge to live in.”

Rima moved into a refuge with her baby boy, who was a few weeks old. She was lucky to be secured a spot. “Every time someone left, another person moved in straight away, there was never a spare bed,” Rima said. As soon as she heard they had a bed, she didn’t hesitate. She moved that day.

“I cried myself to sleep every night because, growing up the way I did – no where near a refuge – I didn’t know what was happening,” Rima said. Before falling pregnant she worked as an area manager for a fast food company. She had a company car, company phone, company petrol. Everything was paid for and organised on her behalf.

“The only space that wasn’t shared in the refuge was the bedroom,” Rima said. “If you wanted to watch TV, you had to watch it with other people. And they could be disgusting. Some people didn’t pick up after themselves, they’d leave kids in bed in nappies the whole day. I would scrub the toilets every time I wanted to have a shower. People would steal food from the fridge.”

"I cried myself to sleep." (iStock)

Rima spent her 30th birthday in the refuge with her son. She lived there for nine months before moving into a half-way house because the refuge was shutting down.

"My son spent the first nine months of his life living in a refuge with 30-40 other kids who don't have anything."

During this time, Rima was receiving income from Centerlink. She couldn't work because of mental health issues (Rima has since been diagnosed with bipolar and split personality disorder), and the fact she couldn't afford childcare for her son.

"You’re trying to survive," Rima said. "You have a little baby you’re trying to buy things for and everything is new. My mental health was deteriorating because I was sexually assaulted in my childhood. I also had no support from anywhere. I felt like a failure and nothing was working out. I couldn't go to work to find money to pay the rent. The father of my son had disappeared. I had to look after him. If I could afford to put him in childcare for a few hours, it was to go to the doctors to try and manage my own mental health problems."

As well as this, Rima found finding a place to live - through the government's affordable housing scheme - was a full-time effort.

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"They're telling you to go and work for a rental property. You're getting rejected from real estate agents. But you're not earning little enough to be eligible for affordable housing," Rima said.

"Your self-esteem is already low because you feel like you can't look after your kid. You're trying your best and you could have ended up homeless. On the streets living on a bench, trying to find people to let you and your son sleep on their couch."

Rima was running out of time at the half-way house. Her time limit was almost up, there were other people who needed to move in.

Rima's son began getting stressed about moving home so much.

"I couldn't find anything. The ones I did find were not accepting me. Fortunately, I was finally put on the priority list. But affordable housing still didn't have a house for me - I had to look for rentals where rent could be subsidised by the government," she said.

They finally found a rental for Rima. But six months after moving in, after buying furniture, curtains, setting up the television, decorating her son's bedroom, the owners put the rental property up for sale.

Rima had to move again, and her future was once again uncertain. Because the house was not a part of the affordable housing scheme, it was privately owned, it was sold from underneath them.

"I had to be home for open house every Saturday, and once again I had no idea what was going to happen. I didn't know if I was going to have to go back to the refuge. I did this for 18 months before the property sold," she said.

The mental stress of this was intense.

"At one stage I was on four different types of medication. I wasn't sleeping at night. I was visiting the psychologist, the psychiatrist. Sometimes the medication would change the way my body worked," Rima said.

"I didn't feel right. My brain might have been functioning 'normally', but my body was so relaxed I couldn't do anything. I needed to be able to wake to my baby if he cried in the night, I needed to be able to do things for him, and I couldn't while I was on the medications. With the help of my psychiatrist, I stopped taking them."

It took nearly seven years but finally Rima and her son had their own home. Image supplied.

Finally, for the first time in six and half years, Rima is living in her own apartment - under the affordable housing scheme - and her home is hers and her son's permanently.

"After six and a half years, and I've finally got a place owned by affordable housing," Rima said.

"Six years of food vouchers and Centerlink and psychiatrists and case workers and counsellors. Finally I'm stable. I'm still seeing a therapist, but it's for maintenance. I'm not taking any medication. We’ve gone through a lot of struggles. I've often felt like giving up. I felt like I didn't have anything to cling onto, but now I have a home. My kid will always have somewhere to live. It's ours."

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And her son? He's turning seven. He moved five times in the first six years of his life. Rima said this has affected him more than she initially thought.

"I never realised he remembered our old house, or that he understood what was going on. But when we moved to this place, he said, 'Oh mummy, why are we doing this again? Are we going to have to do this again?'," Rima said.

"He started having problems at school. Before this last move, he was a very good kid. Very positive and fun. But, because this place is smaller, I had to throw out a lot of his things and that - plus the moving - put him in a bad place. He just wasn't the same person as he used to be. He was angry. Throwing tantrums. Yelling.

"But since being here, I've done everything to show him this is permanent. He saw me plugging in the television and buying things for the place and he asks 'is this my room forever mummy?'. He's slowly getting back to normal. Next I'm going to paint his room, and then he'll know it's really his. Forever."

Finding affordable housing was a six year journey for Rima and her son. She knows people who are still fighting for a place to live. Vinnies NSW is petitioning the state and federal governments to deliver more affordable housing with a campaign called The Right to Home. They're fighting for greater volume and easier access to affordable housing in NSW, so young women like Rima don't have to worry about ending up on the streets caring for their infant child.

"There are a lot of people who do need affordable housing or social housing. A lot of people are doing it on their own. I was lucky to have a few other people on side pushing with me to get me where I am today. Other people keep getting rejected over and over again," Rima said.

To join the petition, to help people who have no where to turn and who are being rejected at every corner, sign the petition at www.vinnies.org. You can help protect innocent people, people in need, people who have no idea where they might be sleeping next week, or next month. You can help them find the most basic, the most powerful thing - shelter and a home to call their own.

Featured image: iStock

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