Thursday, 20 February 2014

Update: there isn't always a happy ending

This post is written by Janine.

Good evening friends.
I am writing for Kath as she cannot post tonight, but she wanted to tell you what has transpired today.

Tomorrow is Kath's birthday... Here is how her birthday eve turned out...

Kath is homeless again. Tonight she left her new home after a big argument with the person who promised to treat her well, but has not. Kath's job has not worked out. She has worked really hard cleaning for the person who has a contract cleaning tender in the region Kath had been living. Kath was approached by this woman and offered paid work, and a room in a lovely home in the mountains near to where Kath had been living in her car.

Early mornings, pain in the ankle and wrist, being treated as a lesser person... This has been Kath's week. She trusted, and that trust has been broken. She was spoken to harshly,  and there is no justification for this. Kath doesn't understand what went wrong. She really wanted this job for as long as it lasted to help her get on her feet, to help her pay for new tyres for her car, to help pay for the surgeries she needs to be well enough to work again. 

Tonight I spoke to Kath on the telephone. Her old phone is at least a text message and phone call lifeline to those who care. She was in tears... Howling by the side of the road on the way to her beloved lake, on her way to the place where she feels safest. I don't know what to do, what to say. I wish I was able to offer her more that the couple of bits of cash I could spare... More than listening. I have nothing to give her that can change this situation.

So, just as I share Kath's story with my family, I decided to share with you - what is to happen to a woman who has worked all her life? A woman who is suffering the consequences of hard manual work, of an accident in her twenties that has left her scarred with arthritis and tendon problems that now scream for corrective surgery that she cannot afford and that the SYSTEM refuses to pay for.

Is this right?

No, no it is not. It is far from right. 

It stinks. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

A Whole Bunch of Sunrises

Did someone say they missed my sunrise photographs?
Here are a few series from the last week or so... things have been busy in the Kath and Janine universes... enjoy!

Last Homeless Meal? I Hope So

This is the last meal I cooked on a public barbecue, I think I am going to miss it... I do appreciate the opportunities I am being offered.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

A Bed and a Job - My Angel is Watching Over Me

I have been thinking about my options. I have heard that there is more support in big cities like Melbourne for homeless people like me. So, do I choose Melbourne and possibly find myself a home or do I stay homeless and enjoy the beautiful views? I am a gypsy, I love my outdoors. It is constantly on my mind - night and day.

A couple of nights ago, Artie was talking to me in my dreams. He told me 'kid - its all going to be OK'.

So, the next day the lady who cleans toilets and the river area where I park my car overnight asked me to work for her and offered me the option of living at her house.

What an opportunity.

Yes it is going to hurt my sore body, but I gotta do something that might give me the money to fix my car, to have a home. I can't keep doing what I am doing. Is it a good idea or should I just go to Melbourne? I will have to wear steel cap boots, it is going to hurt my sore foot.  I'm confused.

This lady is pretty keen to help me. So I met her to talk about it. I have decided to make the change, and give it a good go. Last night was my last night sleeping in my car - hopefully. I am scared about lots of things, of being let down... Or of not being able to do the work.

If last night is going to be my last public bbq dinner and last night sleeping by the lake, how do I feel? Boo hoo, I feel sad-  how funny is that? It's silly isn't it? I'm going to miss the freedom of being homeless, the bbq, the beauty. who's better off?
I feel real strange, it's scaring me more to go to a home than being homeless. I guess I know that in my car I wont be let down, and I have the beauty of my surroundings. It's weird, I have adjusted to a future of surviving as a homeless woman. I'm scared of having a home. Have I lost the plot?

In the afternoon I had an offer of a bed from someone I knew from years ago. I doubted his motives, so said no. Am I crazy, knocking back a bed and some time watching TV? I prefer bbq and sunrises to mansions.

Yesterday when I left the public barbecue area and went to the lake to think things over and have some quiet, I had a nice couple show up ask me if I'm ok and invite me to their home. I thanked them and told them I was fine. I realise that I was becoming withdrawn. I need to make a move.

Yep Artie told me the other night in my dream that he's been busy. He said 'kid I don't like the way you are living - it's not good.' I' not crazy, he did talk to me last night and today proves it. The emotions are weird, I believe Artie is watching over me.

Funny - I have knocked back 2 beds today and accepted a offer of a job AND a bed. Other days I don't even speak to another human let alone being asked to move into someone's home. Everyone says I'm waking up to the million dollar view. Wow, this is a strange life, but I do believe that I have angels looking after me.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

What's on the menu - BBQ of course!

I use the public barbecues to cook most of my meals. Tonight it is chicken skewers with zucchini and eggplant a la Kath - all for $2.


The weekend - sunrise on a Saturday

Weekends make me a little anxious. There are so many more people around. People stare at me all the time. I am peaceful and calm when I see the sunrise or when I am near water.

Here is today's sunrise - Saturday 8 Feb. I hope you can find some calm today.

Getting to know Homelessness by getting to know Kath

I met Kath on Twitter a while ago. She was guest-tweeting on @homelessmelbourne and her story got to me.

Kath lives in her car. She is not doing this by choice. Her life circumstances have lead her to this scenario, despite all attempts on her part to avoid it.

I started chatting to Kath, commenting on her posts. We shared the little things from our lives for a while. Then I realised that the little things that I took for granted such as food, a comfy bed, mates to chat to and a home to live in were the BIG things in Kath's life. She was expending all her energy and all her money in just staying alive.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement. As Kath revealed what a 'normal day' meant for her I realised that she had slipped through the bureaucratic gap between getting assistance and supporting herself and ended up living her life on the street.

I offered to help. Kath wanted to tell her story, and the limitations of 140 characters on twitter were becoming obvious. I offered to set up a blog for her. I use computers on a daily basis, and had blogged about holidays and work stuff before. So, here we are! Welcome to Kath's space on the World Wide Web!

I edit Kath's posts for spelling and grammar - typing out a story on a tiny phone screen leads to lots of typos! I don't change the story ever. Kath tweets the story, sometimes she emails me, other times we chat on the phone until we get it right. The blog is written in Kath's style, I am just the means of getting it to you.

Some of the comments Kath has received on Twitter, especially via DM - which can only be seen by her, have prompted me to come out from behind the blog and write a response.

No I have not met Kath, but we have talked a great deal and I am getting to know her. I certainly know and understand more about her circumstances than some of the commenters.  I know she has been a hardworking taxpayer and a loving Mum. That she hasn't had the easiest life, and her injuries and illnesses have contributed to why she now finds herself homeless.

I know that she is living on the Newstart allowance, pays car insurance and maintenance costs, pays health insurance and gaps for operations, lives healthily on between $2 and $5 per day for food, can rarely afford toiletries and needs a phone as a lifeline to the outside world.

Kath's aim in having this blog is to describe what it is like for a homeless person living in her car. She is not asking for handouts from her readers, just for support to get herself back on her feet, healthy, into a job and living in a home of her own. At the moment, none of those things are possible. She lives in her car because she has no choice. Could you do it?

We are similar in lots of ways, Kath and I. One of those ways is that parents migrated from Holland after WWII. We like chocolate hail sandwiches, and have a liking for cheese.  In some ways, the result of being migrants was different for us each too. My family saved like crazy, I went to university, my husband and I bought a home when times were good. Kath's family saw the war as a reason to live now while the good times lasted. Kath has worked all her life, but didn't sock much away when she had a few extra dollars - not that there was much... The work Kath has been able to secure has been very up and down. If you thought everything was always going to be OK, why would you save. If you didn't know that you would be hit by a hit-run driver travelling at 160km an hour, that your life would be changed in an instant... Why would you save?

I really admire Kath. She has grit and perseverance more than most, she has endured more than she should have had to. There are often times when she doesn't feel safe living in the car, when creepy people hang around, when drunk teens taunt her, when rude people in the supermarket comment on her scruffy appearance. There is no government assistance beyond Newstart that she would qualify for under current programs... So something needs to change. My wish for her is that she can achieve the little things you and I take for granted- a home, regular food and good health.

That's not to say that Kath has an awful life. She manages to get pleasure and enjoyment out of lots of things. Each day she takes a photo of a beautiful sunrise for posting on the blog - she really enjoys getting just the right shot. She loves a good coffee, sitting watching the water near where she 'lives'. One of her stories describes watching a family fishing off the pier. 

What can you do to help? Listen. Just listen - it is that simple. Read her stories, share them, tell people you know how hard it is for people like Kath to do the little things like cook a meal or have a shower. If you have a question, ask it. Kath will answer it honestly so you don't have to make assumptions. Listen to her answers. Hopefully if enough people listen, things can change.
Janine x

Friday, 7 February 2014

Newstart or Disability Support Pension?

I want to work, but I can't. I need operations for injuries sustained through hard work over many years. At the moment, I receive the Newstart benefit. I believe that I would qualify for a Disability Support Pension (DSP) if I had someone help me to document my illness and injury and the effect it has on my day-to-day life.

Here is a list of my injuries.
• Right elbow - A screw in my right elbow from a roller skating break when I was a kid (Story to come). I have had 3 operations so far for compressed nerves. When the nerves grow back they compress on the screw in the bone. The pain and doctor visits are ongoing - I need something done to them about every two years.

• Right hand – My right wrist has a ligament detached from the bone causing pain and swelling. I can't use a computer mouse. I have arthritis in my right index and ring fingers. I find it hard to hold a pen and my hand aches. The next operation I need is on my right wrist.

• I have plates in my left arm from the hit-and-run accident. I have had two operations for tennis elbow and two carpal tunnel operations so far.

• Left ankle – In my left ankle I have a screw in the tibia from a fall through a roof (Another story).

• Right foot - My right ankle has a chip in the bone and a torn ligament, the bone rubs. I can't walk easily on this foot. The next operation after my wrist will be this ankle. I cannot ever wear steel cap boots again. I have a lump under my right foot, from wearing boots, that needs removal.

• Spine – I have a 50-degree curvature of the spine from working in the meatworks as a teenager. This is painful, especially as I sleep in the back seat of my car.

• Thyroid - Graves disease in pregnancy has left me with thyroid problems. The result is depression if I am not medicated. The medication must be kept in a fridge, which I do not have access to. At the moment, one of the charities that help me sometimes stores the medication in their fridge. This means that I have to drive to the charity each day and it costs me petrol.

• Liver – I have hemochromatosis of the liver. That means that my body absorbs and stores too much iron. The extra iron builds up in organs, especially the liver, and can cause serious damage. Without treatment, the disease can cause organs to fail. I need regular venisections – where the blood drains - otherwise I rust… Haha, I mean otherwise I get very tired.

So, I don't qualify for DSP. I would really like to work, but I am not qualified in anything and my body couldn't use a computer, carry or wash plates or be on my feet for long periods. 

Just after my car accident I was on the DSP. I was told after a while that I was not injured anymore, so they cut me off. So I went back to work. I have tried, I really have, to stay self-sufficient. I did work and pay taxes for many years.

I am on Newstart allowance. I need to pay health insurance and car insurance and car maintenance costs. I use a pre-paid mobile phone. The phone allows me to manage my money, pay my bills and is a lifeline to the outside world. I have found enormous help from people on twitter via the phone… without the phone I might not have a conversation with another human for days.

I spend $5 per day on food, and use what is left for petrol. If I don't have money for petrol I can't go anywhere – this means no showers, no visits to the charities, no doctor appointments. It means that I cannot move my home (the car) to a safe place if someone makes me feel unsafe. If I need toiletries, I can only buy them when I when have spare dollars. I buy gas for cooking and pay for rego and car repairs if I have the money. The health insurance doesn't cover all of the cost of the operations, I need to pay for the gaps and excess for the operations.

So - how to survive? I can't work it out. I am not disabled, so I don't qualify for the DSP. Therefore I am forced to be on Newstart. It is a joke right? This is supposed to be the lucky country. We homeless are the invisible people. The government just ignores us. I have paid taxes my whole life. It sucks.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Meat works

I started school at 4 and left at 14. I loved school and was an A grade student but the kids didn't like me. I was very pretty. I also left home. I had runway many times. I won't go into personal family stories.

The police, with my parents' permission, arranged for me to stay at a CWA hostel, even though they didn't usually accept females under 16 years old. I think my rent was $40 p/wk without food. Centrelink in those days was very difficult to obtain, I had to sit there all day to try and get money to pay rent. I got $90 a fortnight.

The lady who ran the hostel and some of the other teenage girls helped me out with food. I soon got sick of it. I was raised to work for what I needed.

Because of my misspent youth I was a good pool player so I started going to the pub and playing in competitions. In those days there was no ID check, I looked older anyway.

I was winning $100 most weeks. People use to challenge me also and put $50 on the table. I always won. I had a great shot and an accurate eye.

I could survive, so I moved to another girls hostel and got a job working in a servo. I loved it. A customer told me there were jobs going at a meat works. I had just turned 15. The legal age was 16 but I looked it. The customer said she would pick me up at 5am and take me there but I had to wait at the gate and they would choose their daily quota. I was quite tall and strong and I was lucky enough to be picked.

I was placed in the pet room packing bad bits of meat. The boxes were packed weighing between 50 and 70 pounds and had to be lifted onto a wire crate to be forklifted away. It was hot in the room because there was no airconditioning.

At the end of the day you got paid - it was $74. I told them they made a mistake, that I hadn't worked all week. "No darling, that's a days pay", I was told.

I was ecstatic. I made sure I showed up the next day. I was chosen to work again. My back was sore from lifting but I gritted my teeth. This went on all week - I was rich! The next week they offered me full time work, I accepted. I had the stomach for it, I watched other girls walk in and throw up. They weren't at the gate again.

I was promoted to the tripe room it was nice and cold from the air conditioning. Tripe like lungs were not as heavy as livers. Livers were the heaviest. I had to rinse them and I will never forget the smell. I will never eat offal. It was a bit cleaner work though. After a week there I was promoted to the offal room. Heaven. Eventually my back did go and I did claim compo for 6 weeks. I wasn't employed again. The excuse that they used was that there were no jobs – ha!

I still suffer back problems from those days. My body was too young for such brutal work.

This work allowed me to get a share flat with an older woman who ripped me off. She didn't pay the rent for 6 weeks. She told me she was leaving and sold everything except for the fridge and a single bed and chair. I was going to stay and find a flat mate. The real estate agent showed up and told me it had been a fully furnished flat and asked for the rent. I had to talk to the police and move out.

One of the police officers let me stay at his place but got in trouble for it so I had to go back to the hostel and back to centrelink. One of the girls in the hostel wanted to travel so we hitched up north. They were fun days and God looked after me and nothing went wrong.

I met a guy in Gympie. I had thrashed him in the pool. We fell in love so I stayed at his place. I stayed with him until I was 19. We got engaged when I was 17 and I thought my girlish dreams had come true. Yeah right! We moved up north. He worked and was transferred and wanted me to be with him – so I followed. He used to bash me - I was young. Eventually I left him. This lead, once again, to hostels.

Sunrise, but anxious

My sunrise of the day was taken on the very, very old phone again today. My phone is till playing up. It is very frustrating. 

I couldn't sleep last night. I had sweats real bad from anxiety. I have run out of money until next week. The car repairs last week cleaned me out. I have no petrol, so I am going to have to park the car at the charity for a week. I usually park near the water, one of the small joys of being homeless. 

Parking at the charity means that I lose my peace, my sunrises and my space. It is busy there, and I do not always feel safe. 

I am stressing over the phone too. I have nothing left now - twitter is a lifeline to my world. I have meet a lot of good people who support me there, and I get to tell my message about homelessness. 

I need some space, that's why I couldn't live in the car in the city - I can keep going as long as I create my space near the water. 

I hope I stay safe. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Old phone, new day

Today's sunrise is brought to you by my very, very old, no internet, mobile telephone. The very old phone (just one very) I have been using to access twitter and write posts for this blog is not playing very nicely. I think constantly being charged for short periods of time as I move about is not helping the life on the battery. So, a blurry Queensland sunrise for you - have a happy day!

Update: I little bit of a prayer and the new phone has come back to life - for now. See you in Twitter!

Monday, 3 February 2014


The  good news is :
I filled a new thyroid prescription this week and the charity going to let me keep it in the fridge so at least I won't have the problem of it going bad.

It's amazing how your thyroid can control everything, especially your emotions, metabolism, weight, hunger, sleep. So maybe I will better with new medication.

I got my thyroid problems through my pregnancy with my son. It's called Graves disease. Before it was controlled I was as skinny as a rake. That and breastfeeding. When I look back at photos, I look anorexic. So skinny. My eyes bulged out too. It's not a nice look. I had a nuclear drink once I finished breastfeeding. It worked, and the problem has been under control as long as I just take one thyroxine a day. But thyroxine has to kept in the fridge. I had a little car fridge but it stopped working.

I couldn't work out why I was feeling so low. I thought it was just car problems and issues with my mum and brother. I found out it that my thyroid was enhancing my emotions. It is a powerful gland and it runs so much of how we function and feel. So this week I have fresh medication and so hopefully that will alleviate the flat feelings from my life.

I know being down is not all from my thyroid issues. It is also homelessness. It makes me cry. Tired. But I pick up. Twitter is my lifeline as I am alone.

Some Sunshine in Your Day

Good morning all! A little bit of sunshine to start off your week. Take care in the traffic and try to get some fresh air today. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Sunrise - Sunday 2 February 2014

It is a bit of a dull sunrise this morning, but it beats waking up in a street or city. 

I hope the sun rises this morning beautifully for all. 

This is My Kitchen

This is where I cook my meals and make my coffee. 

That's right, a public barbecue area. It is clean now, but by the end of the day it won't be. I always clean a barbecue after I use it so it is ready for the next person. Unfortunately, some members of the public are not so thoughtful. If the barbecue is not very clean, and I can't get it clean enough to use, I cook in foil.

I use a butane stove for making coffee and when I can't cook on a barbecue. Butane is quite cheap. It costs $5 for 4 cans. One can lasts 3 meals and about 10 coffees. I would use it in a house - everyone should. So much cheaper than electricity and quick to heat. The only thing that can go wrong with butane is if it is too windy I can't use it. I do sometimes run out of butane for the stove. 

Once I set up the kettle and stove ready to make my coffee, went to the toilet and when I came back everything was gone. Someone had stolen it - even the coffee. It made me so angry. Angry and sad - who steals from a homeless person? I don't get it.

As far as food goes, I buy fresh as much as possible and spend between $2 to $5 for meals. When can't buy fresh  - I use tinned food. Tins are a more expensive way to shop. 

Petrol for the car is my biggest bill.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A Stint in the Army

When I was up north, and of age, I decided to join the army reserves. I thought it would lead to some stability in my life. I always liked the military.

I think all high school kids should do a cadetship in grade 11 or 12. It would teach them some respect and some discipline. My son did it. I saw the change. It should be mandatory. This country would benefit from a more respectful generation - less drugs so forth.

 I loved filing and answering phones so I was assigned to the recruitment office. There were no computers, everything was done on paper. I would arrange the recruitment course for newcomers and keep all personnel information together. I loved it. This was my future.

Because I had everything organised and had my own filing system the office found it hard to actually let me complete a course. Therefore I was a private recruit. The Sgt Major was not happy about this - I would always walk past him and say g'day instead of saluting. The Colonel argued with him and told him to get over it. "She's needed in the office", he would say. They were always bickering over me. I used to giggle about it.

It was hot up there and my uniform was a dress made out of linen and stockings. I refused to wear stockings. There was no airconditioning, only a desk fan. This would make the Sergeant Major more annoyed. "The girl needs to be disciplined and know the army regulations", he would say. I'm sure the Colonel used to use me to get under his belt. He was American - no one liked him. The Colonel was well-liked.

The colonel offered me full time for a week to do the payrolls as the officer that did them had been transferred. I was to also be his secretary and keep files in order, answer the phone and so on. I agreed on the condition that I didn't have to wear the uniform. He agreed. Well you can imagine the Sergeant Major's response. A private recruit, no uniform and in a high position of trust.

I always liked numbers and was good at arithmetic but was allowed to use a huge calculator to double check that the payroll was accurate.

The Colonel knew I could play pool. After work he would take me to the officer's mess for a beer and a game of pool. The Sgt Major was fuming. He didn't like me at all by now. All ranks thought it was so funny.

The Colonel had a bet with the Sgt Major over a game of pool.
The Colonel said "If you win, Kath is not allowed to come back in. If you lose then shut up – ok?" It was a deal.

The Colonel whispered in my ear "Thrash him!" We tossed for the break. He backed tails, I was stuck with heads. The officers were all calling heads as the coin was tossed. They knew if I won and had to break what I was capable of doing. That was the longest toin coss I remember. Slow motion … heads it was. I saw the look of fear on the Sgt Major's face. I knew I had won the argument. I was centre of attention. Nerves didn't come into it. You could have heard a pin drop. The jukebox was turned off. All was quiet. I tuned into the rack looked up at the Sgt Major and smashed them.

As usual, when I was in kick ass mood in a game of pool against a man that gave me a hard time. Two balls of the same group sunk. Next shot I sank another 3. The Colonel brought me over a beer. I stopped and drank some. The Sgt Major was sweating. The boys said to him "Hey, I hope you've got clean undies on". The Sgt Mjr said, "C'mon - hurry up and miss your next shot so I can clean you up". I just smiled at him. "Thanks buddy", I thought. That's all it took.

I was going to set the 8 ball up a bit better and let him have a shot. Well, that was it! I sank the last 2 balls. I stuffed up and the 8 ball ended up against the cushion instead of over the pocket. The Sgt Major sighed in relief. No way I could get that shot. I stopped had a sip of beer and the Colonel said to me "Come outside for a minute." The Sgt Major asked why. The colonel said it was military business. The Sgt Major said "If she leaves, she forfeits the game". All the boys pointed to the rules on the wall and asked where it says that. The Sgt Major couldn't answer. The Colonel told us to just finish the game. I tuned in with my eye. My hands were steady. I positioned my feet flat on the floor and gently kicked it in. In almost slow motion the ball moved to the pocket and fell in. Everyone applauded. They were yelling "Drop 'em, drop em" to the Sgt Major.

He was fuming. Not only was he beaten by a girl who didn't salute him, but she was out of uniform and a private recruit at that. He left. He never talked to me again. He would just glare. I would smile and say g'day. A deal was a deal. He didn't drink at the mess all week. 

Sometimes it's fun being out of uniform and breaking the rules, but only to thumb my nose at those people who don't show me the respect I deserve.