real life

Alison was homeless at 11. She's been raped and beaten. She also has 9 children.

Alison Sime loves to read.

She’s demolished everything Stephen King has ever written. She loves to draw, cook, and muck around with mates. She’s a fierce mother and believer in love. She’s honest, warm and eloquent.

She has also been homeless since she was 11. Or as she likes to call it; houseless.

In her 39 years, Alison has lived what feels like 39 lives. She’s been kicked down more times than she can count. And she is just one of more than 100,000 Australians living on our streets.

Rochelle started Share the Dignity, which gives free sanitary items to homeless women. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

As a little girl Alison would spend her nights in various Sydney clothing bins.

They’re warm, comfortable and more importantly safe. She’d eat food from the fruit and veggie bins behind Coles. Or she’d steal it from the shop itself, if she had to.

And yet she’d still turn up to school every day, and did so right until Year Nine.

As you can imagine being a child on the streets is hideously dangerous. “I was a girl. A very little girl. I was petrified constantly,” she told Mamamia.

Despite having a rough upbringing, she says one of the best things her mother ever did for her was put her through martial arts lessons while she was still under the family roof.

It helped, for the most part. Alison found herself having to fight off grown men. It worked. Until it didn’t.

Aged 12 she was knocked unconscious and raped, she doesn’t know by how many men. But it was a lot.

Aged 14 she was raped again, this time she remembers how many men – two.

“I woke up in hospital badly damaged and was told I’d never have kids because of what they did to me,” she said.

She did have kids, nine in fact.

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Alison Sime has had it tough. But every time she's been knocked down, she's found a way to get back up. Image: Supplied.
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She first fell pregnant aged 14. She visited her home because she thought her mum might care now that she was having a child. A male family member allegedly beat her up while she was eight and a half months pregnant and her son was born with a crushed skull. He died.

Alison has permanent brain damage from the amount of times the male relative allegedly beat her as a child. She also has PTSD, clinical depression and bipolar.

Joshua was born when she was 18. At the time she had a little unit with Josh's dad, the first roof she'd had since childhood. Alison sighed contently when asked what that felt like.

"It was awesome. The best part was having somewhere to call home... of course sleeping in a bed was excellent. But it was mostly for me about having a door I could lock to keep the bad out," she told Mamamia.

But when Josh was eight months old, her boyfriend was locked up for drugs charges and his mother kicked her out of the unit.

"Going back to the streets... was heartbreaking. It destroyed me. I had Joshua with me initially. I tried to find safe spots like stairwells in carparks or disabled toilets and parents rooms in train stations because at least I could lock the door.

"But I couldn't look after him and I had to give him up," she said. She was devastated, but she couldn't feed herself let alone her son.

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The only job Alison ever had was when she was a child.

She'd go to school during the day and sleep in the bin during the night  - but in between she'd work as a stable hand for Belinda Emmett, Rove McManus's wife. That stopped when Belinda died from breast cancer. She's never found work again.

After Joshua, Alison went on to have Kylie, Tanika and Kiara all with the same man. She adored him, sometimes they'd have a place to live for a little while and she'd get a taste of normality. Footy on the weekends and fussing over clothes for her kids - it was bliss. "Kiara had clothes up until six months old and she wasn't even born yet," she smiled.

But it would always end the same; her baby ripped from her arms by DOCS, her roof taken away, and Alison forced to curl up on the streets.

Of course she turned to drugs. It was the only thing that numbed the pain, it was also the only thing that let her sleep through the night. "You doze when you sleep rough, unless you're off your face," she explained.

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Alison has severe mental health issues from living a life of trauma. Image: Supplied.
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"The reasons they would give me [for taking my children] were because of my mental health, my childhood history and my instability. Because I was a child of abuse they reckoned I was going to abuse my child," she said.

But being a mother was Alison's greatest joy. It's why she kept having them. Yes, she had access to contraception she told Mamamia. "But all I ever wanted was a family."

"I wanted to be able to give my love to someone unconditionally," she explained. "But they always denied me that."

Every time Alison fell pregnant she'd go off the drugs. She didn't need them when she was happy. As soon as her child was taken, she'd return to her old vices.

"It hurts every time just as much. If not more. I fought so hard for them," she said.

Alison's kids range in age from five to 20, but she only gets to see the eldest four.

Her first, Josh, left a home with acreage and five bedrooms to live with Alison on the streets for a little while a few years back. He wanted to protect his mum.

"It made me realise no matter how hard they try to keep my kids away from me, they know I love them and they still love me," she said.

Alison does have a favourite child, 12-year-old Mahaylah.

"Mahaylah was not a child of consent. She is a constant reminder that something good can come out of a real bad situation," she said.

What is it really like to be homeless?

Winter is the worst.

You can hide away from the rain. But you can't escape the cold.

"You can put as many jumpers on as you can, and it's still cold. The air you breathe in you get sick from, but you can't get better because you're still in the elements," Alison told Mamamia.

But perhaps worse than the cold, is the hunger.

"You don't know what hungry really is," she stated matter of factly.

"A rumble in the stomach is one thing. But when you've got hunger cramps and pains that are that bad you can't move. You're that lethargic because you've got nothing in you....

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"Once I ended up in hospital after not eating for four days," she said.

Alison developed an eating disorder early on. Binge eating.

"I wouldn't eat for days and then when I would have food I'd eat so much I'd be sick. You think it might be your last food for a while."

She says she, and many homeless people spend their nights dreaming of a hot meal.

Well, that and a warm bed.

"I dreamt about roast veggies and roast beef. All the time," she said.

She's found hot showers are hard to come by, but tampons aren't. "St Vincent's will always help you out [with sanitary items]," she said.

There's no point buying new clothes or multiple sets of clothes, they just get stolen. "If you dress like a bum, people figure you have nothing," is Alison's advice.

Rochelle Courtenay Is Changing The World One Tampon At A Time. Post continues after podcast.

"When you see a homeless person you automatically think they're a drug addict, or they've done something to deserve it," said Alison.

"They aren't doing enough, they aren't trying hard enough. But you don't know what it's like.

"It's the looking down the nose, and every now and then you'll catch people muttering between themselves," she added.

"You don't know the story in between...so just say good morning and smile," she said.

"Homeless people aren't just human. They are down and they're hurt... All they're looking for is a hand up not a hand out. Most of them anyway."

"Being a woman on the street is way worse. You're an easy target."

Alison estimates she's been bashed upwards of 30 times while living on the street, just for being there.

"I have had my head fractured several times.

"I've been hospitalised twice.

"Once someone came at me with an Irish whacking stick and I got 14 contusions, a fractured nose, three broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a cracked sternum," she reeled off.

Being a woman, and a small one, she is an easy target even with her fighting skills.

Most of the time, the bashings are unprovoked.

"Some of these people aren't homeless they're just arseholes looking for someone to beat up," she said.

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Other times they are homeless people that are so high on drugs they're paranoid.

Did she hear about Courtney Herron? No. She's got dozens, if not hundreds of examples of her own 'Courtneys' who've never made the front page.

"A friend was homeless in Brisbane and was gang-raped by 15 boys. She was sleeping under a bridge and they found her.

"Or there's my half sister. She was on the streets in Coffs Harbour, and a violent criminal out on parole took her to the bush and tortured her for three days before murdering her," she said.

This information while shocking to us, is normal to Alison.

She waits for violence to find her. It's inevitable as a woman on the street.

At 39, Alison is happier than she's probably ever been.

Alison and her partner Mark live in a bus near Noosa.

She moved to Queensland before Tyson was born (her eighth child) in an effort to disrupt the cycle of her children being ripped away. She'd heard the services were better up there and more understanding.

They are (she says) but that didn't help Alison.

"That's what hurts the most. They'd [case workers, social services, DOCS] read my case file and automatically judge me before they'd even meet me. They don't know me from a bar of soap - and yet they'd judge me," she said.

Alison craves the simple things in life.

"I would give an arm and a leg just to wake up in my own house and get my kids ready for school. All of those things people bitch about I'd give anything for," she told Mamamia.

After everything she's lived through Alison has been told countless times that she's strong.

"I don't feel strong, even though everyone tells me I am. It hurts. Sometimes it hurts so much I can't breathe. Especially on my kids' birthdays," she said.

Even if Alison wanted to get a job (which she does - she'd love to work on a farm) she couldn't.  She's started getting seizures, sometimes up to 14 a day, and she's been told she is no longer well enough to give employment a go.

But despite everything, Alison is happier than she's ever been. She has also been clean for more than five years.

She potters around the bus while Mark goes to work (he puts up signs), she reads, she has a TV and she gets creative in the kitchen on her little gas cooker.

Her speciality is Mi Goreng noodles with a bit of fried bacon, salami, onion, garlic and capsicum thrown in. "It's nice and filling... and cheap, that's the main thing," she told Mamamia.

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But she's also found a new highlight to look forward to.

Her fortnightly visit to the ladies at Sunny Street - a Lady Startup based in Queensland that provides healthcare for the homeless.

 

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It's one doctor and one nurse, and they are changing lives with a goal to this year take their mission national.

"It's my favourite day," said Alison. "There's these ladies there that make a cup of tea for you... and they [Dr Nova Evans and Sonia Goodwin] greet me like a friend. 

"I've spent most of my life feeling like an outsider. But they look forward to seeing me.

"It's the first time I've been able to speak to a doctor and not feel persecuted and like I am doing something wrong," she said.

Over the years Alison has often thought to herself: why me?

"There has be a reason I've been through all of this right?" she asked Mamamia.

"Perhaps this is it.. sharing my story."

"If I can help just one person."

If you'd like to support Alison, support Sunny Street. You can find them here. 

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