Judy’s experience in emergency housing

Judy is a 56-year-old woman with a long history of vulnerable housing. She is smart, articulate, house-proud and incredible at managing things on a tight budget.

Judy lived in her own Office of Housing property some years ago. Unfortunately, domestic violence forced her to vacate this premises, which was in her name. Judy’s ex-partner damaged the property and accrued a substantial rent arrears debt. This has made it challenging for Judy to apply for housing again despite resolution through VCAT.

In early 2017, Judy was in private rental with her current partner, Tim.

“The rental property was falling into the ground, but it was cheap and all we could afford,” said Judy. “The house was uninhabitable. Every time it rained, the house flooded and there was mould throughout.”

After getting the notice to vacate, Judy and Tim struggled to find a new rental property as they had both lost work and were recipients of Centrelink benefits. “We were knocked back for everything we applied for and there was nothing that we could really afford.”

They visited the nearest homelessness access point for help, who referred them to a room in a private rental property and paid the first two weeks’ rent. “The day before we were due to move in, the owner contacted us and said the room was no longer available.”

Months of insecurity in temporary shelter options followed: First, they stayed with Judy’s uncle for a few weeks, then squatted in an uninhabitable house over Easter. After they were removed from there, they returned to the homelessness access point for help and were placed in a hotel for one night.

“The room was in appalling condition: No bedding, no pillows, nothing. The police visited the premises six times through the night in relation physical assaults, domestic violence and damage to property.”

Judy and Tim returned the following day and begged not to be returned to the hotel where they felt unsafe. Unfortunately, there were no other options available. They were given a contact for another provider and advised to make contact themselves. After one night in a backpackers’, they ran out of money.

Judy and Tim then moved into a private rental property listed for $150 per week. After two days, the landlord illegally increased the rent by almost double the agreed amount. They faced various forms of bullying during the three months they lived there; Judy recalls one week where they slept in the garage because the locks had been changed.

They then stayed in a small apartment with two family members, who both had substance abuse issues. Unfortunately, this meant that they could no longer receive assistance from the homelessness access point since they were outside of their catchment area.

Thanks to police intervention, they were able to receive assistance and were referred to a motel for one night. They were then placed in a private rooming house for one week.

Once again, Judy and Tim were subjected to appalling living conditions and bullying tactics: When they requested a two-day extension on their rent to coincide with Newstart payments, the rooming house manager threatened them with an illegal eviction. They also felt unsafe on the premises.

“There was a couple with serious substance use issues. The male regularly beat up his partner. On most nights, she slept in a completely empty room without furnishings in an effort to stay away from him.” Sadly, the girl overdosed and died in the bathroom at this premises. She had no support.

The experience was too traumatic for Judy and Tim to bear. They requested to be moved and were transferred to an unregistered rooming house. This premises also had several repairs issues.

By February 2018, long periods of homelessness and difficulties finding work profoundly impacted Tim’s mental health and he was admitted to a psych hospital for more than a week. “I also felt hopeless. No one had offered to help with long term housing options – even simple things like completing a housing application.”

Judy continued to stay on the premises on her own with barely enough money left to cover food and medication. She was often too scared to leave her room or her belongings unattended due to theft issues.

“I had never been in this position before in my life. You have to be in [the crisis housing and the homelessness system] to fully understand what it is like. I could never understand how bad it was until it was in it.”

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In December 2017, the Tenants Victoria Outreach Program attended the premises where Judy and Tim lived after receiving information about an unregistered rooming house at that address. After almost a year of bouncing between crisis accommodation options, they had lost all hope of their situation ever changing.

The outreach worker attended the premises with a nurse, who has provided Judy and Tim much-needed support. Tenants Victoria’s Legal Service assisted Judy with abolishing the property damage debt with the Office of Housing and significantly reducing the rent arrears. Referrals were made to support agencies who, with advocacy over several months, completed a priority homeless with support housing application. Judy was eligible for older persons’ community housing and at the end of June 2018, was re-housed in a peaceful over 55s bedsit.