Saturday, 8 February 2014

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

1 comment:

  1. I wish you well Kath the darkest hour is just before the dawn.


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