Vivienne contacted Stepping Out when she had nowhere else to turn. Living with a chronic illness in sub-standard housing in the private rental market with only $10 left from Newstart payment after rent, she could not see a way forward. She could not afford to eat, let alone pay for the medications needed for the chronic pain and fatigue that had become a part of her life. At this low point, she remembered Stepping Out. We had helped her 15 years previously with housing and case management, giving her the space and support to complete a university degree, establish a successful career as an immunologist and move into the private rental market.
Vivienne is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She grew up in a good family in Melbourne but, due to trauma, found herself on the streets, abusing drugs from the age of 14. She came to Sydney to enter rehab and join a 12 Step program.
In 1993, Vivienne was diagnosed with Lymes Disease, a degenerative disease which attacked her nervous system and caused seizures. Life started to fall apart and she turned back to medication to manage pain. Predictably, life unravelled even faster.
When Vivienne contacted Stepping Out earlier this year, she was a year clean and well supported by the 12 Step community. She was living in a room in a boarding house in Annandale. There was no kitchen and she had to struggle up a flight of stairs to use a communal bathroom. Other residents had mental health issues and she was threatened on several occasions. The fire alarm kept going off due to an infestation of cockroaches and was eventually deactivated, despite other residents smoking in their rooms. It was unsafe and unsuitable and she paid $270/week out of her $280/week Newstart benefit. She was appealing a Centrelink decision to not give her a disability support pension because they do not acknowledge Lymes Disease. With her mobility severely limited and living with chronic fatigue and pain, she had neither the energy nor the resources to keep fighting.
Immediate support for Vivienne included taking her to local food banks, invitation to our social inclusion program, advocacy with her local MP for a Centrelink decision and, most urgently, with community housing providers for transitional housing.
Within a few weeks, Vivienne was provided with transitional housing in Lewisham. With safe, suitable and subsidised housing, she is able to tackle the other challenges in her life without rental stress and the risk of homelessness with a chronic illness. Through her recovery, she is provided with the protective factors of connection and community and she is buoyed by weekly case management and participation in our social inclusion program. Moving forward, she is supported in her push for permanent affordable housing and the appropriate government support of disability support pension and NDIS.
Vivienne’s story highlights the perils of surviving in the private rental market for women affected by CSA and associated trauma, as well as illness. It also highlights the continuity of care provided by Stepping Out. Stepping Out had helped her get back on her feet previously, and, in a dark moment, she remembered that support and reached out. We will continue to support Vivienne to live her best life in challenging conditions.