lifestyle

Vicky was a working mum of three. Here's how she became homeless.

This week is national Anti-Poverty Week — and new statistics released by the Australian Council of Social Services reveal some startling truths about the face of poverty in Australia.

The new data, based on 2012 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, reveals that more than 600,000 children live below the poverty line — and that women are more likely to experience poverty than men, at 14.7 per cent compared to 13 per cent.

Today on Mamamia, we bring you the powerful story of Vicky Vacondios, a 40-year-old mother of three whose transition from a working homeowner to a homeless sole parent living below the poverty line is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring.

By VICKY VACONDIOS, as told to GRACE JENNINGS-EDQUIST

I used to be a workaholic, working 60 hours a week in sales, hospitality, and in the gaming industry. I was married to a theoretical physicist, and I used to make quite a bit of money.

But I never prepared myself. I never thought that I’d be homeless. I always thought that I was going to own a beautiful home, that I was going to be treated like a queen.

Never did I think that I was going to be a single mother, or that I was going to be abused and hurt.

After my divorce I was with a guy who became violent — so violent, he suffocated me. As he was doing it, he was telling me that he was going to kill me so nobody could touch me.

A friend came over the next day and told me that my lips were kind of grey, and that made me realise how bad it was. I realized it was a miracle I didn’t die.

That’s when I fled.

It was 2005, and I found out I was pregnant with my daughter on the same day I left.

Vicky's two sons. (Source: supplied).
Vicky’s two sons. (Source: supplied).
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This was my first experience within the refuge system. I learnt heaps about the gaps in our system, about what not to do in women’s refuges, about what is needed within our system. I learned about what women actually could benefit from to escape domestic violence.

I wasn’t able to break that cycle myself though, at least immediately: I returned to that guy twice. I had to call the police a couple of times, and one time when they turned up, they said “he’s unpredictable, it’s just going to keep happening.” The intervention order didn’t really make a difference.

The house we’d been living in was under my name, but they told me it would be better to leave the house. So I left for good the third time – I picked up and went to live the country in 2007, where I found some affordable housing.

I returned in 2009 because I missed my family, and I thought I’d just be able to get rent within a couple of weeks. I stayed with some family while I looked for work.

“The kids would say ‘where are we sleeping tonight?’ And I’d say, ‘you don’t have to worry about that, you won’t be sleeping in the streets’.” (Note: This is a stock image.)

But I didn’t realise the bar was set so high! Once I was back in Melbourne, I looked and looked for a job but couldn’t find anything at all. So I went to a housing organisation. They said to me that I had to be homeless in order to get assistance. I thought, this can’t be right. I went back a second time, then a third time. The third time I actually had to pack some bags and become homeless to get any help – because I couldn’t keep living with my family long-term, not with my three kids.

Then for two and a half months we were homeless — and basically I had to navigate through the system. I’d take my children into school and then rush back to the service every second day, to see if they could find something for us or accommodate us for another night, otherwise we’d have to sleep in my car.

The kids would say “where are we sleeping tonight?” And I’d say, “you don’t have to worry about that, you won’t be sleeping in the streets.”

Every morning I would get up, put my makeup on, put my business attire — nice clothes, my heels, my boots, which made me feel like I was going to work. But really I was working – navigating the system, finding an internet café and looking up all sorts of housing services.

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If I didn’t do that, I would have slipped into severe depression, I would have felt worthless. To be honest, at one point I felt like I didn’t even want to be alive. And I thought: “what have I done to get here?”

It is the worst feeling you could probably feel.

Vicky, while in emergency accommodation.

During that time, to keep the kids in clean clothes, I had to constantly visit laundromats. It got expensive. Actually, it was so expensive to be homeless! I was living off a sole parent pension, and I was buying takeaway food because there was no cooking facilities in the motel rooms. I never went to the food banks because I was too embarrassed.

It was very hard, very hard. People have got no idea.

Anyway, we lived in emergency accommodation for four years. Throughout that time I was always volunteering and public speaking. Then about eighteen months ago we finally found stable housing – now, we’re living in a three bedroom house in Melbourne. It’s not 100% perfect, but for now it will do.

Now I sit on a ministerial advisory group. I’ve also been mentoring women as well, and just keeping positive. It’s such an empowering feeling to be able to do that, and to know that I’m still sane and I haven’t allowed any of these men, especially my ex, to take me down.

I’m also about to start a social enterprise business to start making an income, working with women. I actually had a meeting with the deputy Lord Mayor Susan Reilly here in Melbourne and it was her idea to apply for a business grant. So I did that and I found out next month if it’s been approved.

I believe women are more likely to live in poverty than men. For mums it’s much harder, of course, because it’s more demanding for us to be attentive to our children. That’s one thing that stopped me working full time when my children were growing up- because my children didn’t have a father around, and they need one parent in their life.

My kids still ask difficult questions, even today. They say: “Are we always going to be poor?” I say, “no, of course not, you’ll see, no way.”

And anyway we’re not poor, we’re actually pretty rich. Some days I believe we’re millionaires, because look at the love we’ve got within our home.

If you’d like to connect with Vicky to contribute to her new enterprise: “The Beginning Of A New Journey: Working together in Unity,” please email [email protected] You can also support Vicky’s enterprise by joining app WizeOwl; the Code to support The Beginning Of A New Journey, when downloading app is bnj.

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