Vicky Vacondios was relieved when she secured a place for she and her children to call home three years ago, but today she continues to wage a crushing battle with homelessness.
Only this time, the 38-year-old’s focus is on ending the cycle of homelessness that grips far too many Australian families — both with her own three children and beyond.
Vicky had two young sons and was pregnant with her daughter when she worked up the courage to escape her abusive husband.
She said she fell into a relationship with the volatile man as she grappled with her first divorce.
The sickening violence at the hands of her second husband grew so bad that on one occasion he suffocated her, turning her lips blue as he threatened to kill her.
“It was a miracle I didn’t die,” she said.
She left him in 2005 and moved into a refuge with her sons, but would return to him twice before finally leaving for good in 2007. It was then that she was thrust into the horror of homelessness, simply for protecting herself and her children.
She has been a hard worker all her life, but finding a job to be able to finance sky-high rental homes as a single mother with three young children was eminently difficult.
She said she would drop off her kids at school before spending her entire day navigating the housing services system, but the waiting lists counted tens of thousands of people.
Her children always asked where they'd be sleeping that night, and she'd assure them they wouldn't be sleeping on the streets.
For five years, they lived in emergency accommodation. She and her children shuffled between nights spent in motels, in refuges, on the couches of friends and relatives, and were on the brink of sleeping in their car.
At last, in early 2013, they secured a three-bedroom home through public housing. Things were looking up.
Mamamia first reported Vicky's story in 2014. But since then, the stress and trauma of homelessness caught up with Vicky, leaving her with serious health issues.
She became sick with bowel disease and in January had surgery to remove 30cm of her bowels.
Worse, she now fears how the instability of the last decade has impacted her children -- especially her firstborn son, aged 17.
She says he grew unhappy in the cramped three-bedroom home, and he recently chose to move out.
His decision was in part driven by wanting to free a room for his 10-year-old sister, who has anxiety after spending her early years in homelessness and having to share a bed with her mother all her life.
Heartbreakingly, he is now homeless, spending his nights crashing with friends. But Vicky is determined to get him back on his feet and enrolled in a construction course like he always wanted.
"I can see the cycle is continuing, which is sad but I'm at the point where I won't give up. I will be very loud in stopping my son from being homeless and falling through the gaps, no matter what it takes," she said.
While channelling her energies into her children's wellbeing and education, Vicky also acts as an advocate, mentor and trainer for people experiencing homelessness while she undergoes a diploma in community services. She is a volunteer with the Council to Homeless Persons.
She urged people to understand how important it was for all Australians to have access to housing -- and appropriate housing, because she felt she has no choice but to stay in a home that has left her daughter afraid of sleeping alone and her eldest son walking out.
"Take your own time to read up on the lived experience and find out if there is any way you can help services in your community that fight homelessness. It's getting so bad and we need to do something now for the next generation," she says.
Tonight, a staggering 105,000 Australians will be without a safe home to sleep in. Tonight, and every night, until we tackle the housing affordability crisis that has swept the country, advocates warn.
As part of Homelessness Week, the Council to Homeless Persons is urging people to recognise that homelessness is not just ascribed to the rough sleeper on street, but to those hidden from view in caravan parks, refuges, friends' couches, rooming houses and in cars. Those like Vicky.
What would you do if you saw this little girl on the street? Post continues after video...
Many among the 'invisible homeless' are women and children fleeing family violence or kids who can't stay at home because of family troubles.
The Council's CEO, Jenny Smith, said the common thread among all stories of homelessness was a dire lack of affordable housing.
"As house prices have increased, rents have gone up with them, and more people on low incomes are being pushed out of the rental market and forced to seek help from homelessness agencies," she said.
But when they turn to public housing, it can be years before they even land a property.
The CHP is calling for a long-term national strategy to tackle housing affordability at both state and federal levels.
Feature image taken by photographer Heather Dinas.
If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.