By DALE SPENDER
It happened again last week. When I mentioned that there is a school in Brisbane where the teenage girls need to be fed when they arrive, all need new bras and knickers, some come with their babies, others have nobody at home looking after them – worst still come from broken, violent homes, a woman said to me: “But that can’t be happening in such a prosperous city.’’
Some people can only deal with the way they want the world to be. I like to deal with ‘’what is’’. And the reality is that there are homeless women in every prosperous capital city in Australia – up against wealth and new apartments and trendy coffee shops, just around the corner, sits poverty. And there is no longer a ‘’norm’’ of what this homelessness looks like.
What’s the modern-day face of female homelessness?
Is it Tanya, a young woman who battled all her 35 years with an intellectual disability and crippling schizophrenia, bouncing from hospital psych units to unsafe boarding houses and relationships, before she finally found a safe home. Is it Janice the Queensland pensioner who had signed over the family home to her son and came home one day to find the locks changed and her belongings on the front lawn? Or Lyn, a middle-aged middle-class mother of three teenage boys, whose husband died and they lost their business and eventually their home? Or is it Bridget, the Brisbane businesswoman, a graphic designer, who fled family violence to an emergency refuge with her children. She managed to continue working keeping her business going because she was desperate not to lose the house. She cared for the children, dealt with the custody dispute as the refuge staff supported her through every step. Today she’s in her home, safe and happy, business still running.
These are all women I have met or know who were homeless or teetering on the edge of homeless. I have been a feminist scholar, teacher, a writer of some 20 books, and a digital consultant in my life, yet some of the most fulfilling work I have done has been to assist homeless women and girls through Second Chance. My involvement started when I was asked a decade ago to help raise some money – but once you know about homeless women in your own city, well, you simply cannot walk away. Somewhere inside you, it dawns on you – yes, we make a living by what we earn, what we get. But we make a life by what we give. Here’s why…
Recently, I watched a woman who had spent much of her middle age living a damging life on the street, vulnerable and lost in depression and alcoholism, and then sleeping on someone’s exposed and dirty balcony, stroll into a new airy apartment block, check on her flourishing plants and walk into a modern and clean apartment, equipped with new furniture, kitchenette (supplied by Second Chance) and a large window in the middle -of bustling and trendy inner-city Brisbane. She was home.