Christine lived on a friend's couch when she left her husband and had nowhere else to go.

Like most of us, Christine Thirkell never expected to become homeless.

But after “one fight too many”, she left her husband and their newly-purchased home and found herself with nowhere to go.

“I didn’t have a plan, I just basically grabbed some clothes… and maybe a pillow, sleeping bags and chucked it all in my car and sped off and went ‘heck, what do I do now?’ with my daughter,” Christine told Mamamia.

“I didn’t know where to go and I didn’t have any ideas about services, so I rung a friend up and she said, ‘yeah sure come and stay in the playroom’.”

Christine Thirkell. (Image supplied.)

So the then 48-year-old crashed on her friend's couch, making the woman's playroom her and her seven-year-old daughter's temporary home - although it felt like anything but. While it was a safe place for her and her daughter to stay, it wasn't a comfortable place to live.

"Being in someone else's home you don't know what the rules are. Although she was a lovely girl and a dear friend, I felt like I was intruding, I felt like I didn't have much control, it wasn't my own space," the former teacher said.

"We had to push the play stuff out of the way to put our mattress out at night and roll it up and pack it up every day.

"Seeing as I was teaching at the same school as my daughter was attending we actually made up a story because we didn't want to be known as homeless... we didn't want that stigma put on to us."

Circumstances became worse for Christine, now 54, when she was forced to give up her part-time teaching job after she injured her back while providing palliative care for her father.

"It's all a bit blurry for me. I lost too many people, I lost my relationship, I lost my dad. It was all very much in crisis-mode for quite a while."


Christine's story isn't the type what we conjure up when we think of homelessness - and that's why it's such a problem.

LISTEN: You can also help women sleeping rough by donating to sanitary items to Share The Dignity. Mia Freedman talks to the charity's founder, Rochelle Courtenay on No Filter (Post continues after audio...)

"Ninety-five per cent of people experiencing homelessness do not sleep on the streets. They're effectively invisible to society," Homelessness Australia chair Jenny Smith said.

And the number of women finding themselves in this position is rising.

According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data analysed by HA, the number of women aged 50 and older presenting to homeless services who are couchsurfing has risen by 83 percent in just four years - from 885 in 2012-13 to 1618 in 2015-16. The number of women sleeping in cars has also jumped dramatically.

It's a misconception that just because someone isn't sleeping on the streets that they are okay. In fact, despite Christine now finding rental accommodation with her mum, Katherine, who was also homeless and couchsurfing, she's filled with worry. From how she might cope when her mum passes away, to how she might pay the bills if her car breaks down, thoughts of money and the future are never far from her mind.

"We're both counting our pennies wondering who's going to be paid next and (wondering) 'should we turn the heater on tonight?'"

"I think that happens with a lot of people who are struggling to pay their rent and have to make certain sacrifices and cut costs just to be able to stay in the house."


Still, Christine knows she is luckier than many others. Her sister and brother-in-law are her landlords, offering rent at the minimum they can afford themselves.

"We're lucky because we actually have a house and it's one that we know will be permanent, unlike other people in houses that are renting, their situation is really insecure," she said.

"I probably will need to go on the public housing waiting list, which I'm reluctant to do, but it's probably the only option, just as a safe backup. I don't know how I'm going to go if my mum dies."

And that's why Christine wants to see a 100,000 more homes made available for low-income earners over the next five years.

Christine, along with an alliance of the Homelessness Australia, National Shelter, the Community Housing Industry Association, and the Australian Council of Social Service, is pushing state and federal governments to step up and end the housing crisis.

"Homelessness is an indication that broader social supports and service systems are failing," Jenny Smith said, adding that there is currently around 195,000 people waiting for public housing.

"Homelessness can be fixed by providing adequate housing.

"One hundred thousand new public and community homes would make a real difference, housing the elderly, families and single people on low incomes."

If you want to support Christine and the 100,000 Homes campaign, please sign the petition here.

The theme of this year's Homelessness Week (August 7-13) is Action and Innovation. You can find out more about events being held near you here.