'Lowest point of my life': Debra's long road back from sleeping in her car

Source: Clay Lucas, The Age - 25/02/2020

The low point in Debra’s life came in 2017 when, with barely a cent to her name, she parked her beat-up 2003 Hyundai next to a football oval in Deer Park and settled in to sleep for the night.

Off and on for the next three weeks, when she couldn't afford money for a cheap motel, and not wanting to be a burden to her family, Debra, who asked that her last name not be used, slept in her car.

“I had my husband’s ashes in the back,” says Debra, a 65-year-old Aboriginal woman originally from Tasmania.

On the public housing waiting list for five years before she started sleeping in her car, Debra never imagined it would end up like this.

Of Victoria's 60,000 Aboriginal people, 5000 are homeless. Each year, 11,000 Aboriginal people in Victoria seek homelessness support.

At one point Debra was a manager at Kmart in Richmond's Victoria Gardens shopping centre. Then three deaths in 2006 – her husband, her mother, then her father, all from cancer – rocked her world. Later, she had a quadruple heart bypass. In and out of rental houses from then on, staying occasionally with her daughter, one night Debra eventually decided to just drive her Hyundai out and stay out.

“My daughter thought I was at my niece’s, and my niece thought I was at my daughter’s,” she says. “It was the lowest point in my life.” Soon after, she found a way out of homelessness. Hers was a rare success story.

“If mainstream Victoria experienced housing crisis at this rate, more than one million people would be seeking homelessness assistance every year,” says Darren Smith, chief executive of Aboriginal Housing Victoria. “It's a shocking record for a state that prides itself on being the most progressive in Australia.”

On Wednesday at the Victorian Parliament House, a new strategy titled Mana-na worn-tyeen maar-takoort: Every Aboriginal Person Has a Home will be released.

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