Homeless in Merimbula and out in the cold

A local woman who has spent her working life caring for others, has been reduced to sleeping in her car and claims that some of the charities we associate with providing help for the homeless are offering little or no help to her, leaving her feeling ashamed and even more depressed about her situation.

Sue (not her real name by request) has turned to the News Weekly in a desperate call for help because she simply doesn’t know what to do. At 4.30am yesterday morning the temperature at Merimbula was 4 degrees and Sue was trying to sleep in her car as she has done for the last three weeks. Temperatures are due to drop further in the coming days.

"Last week I had to ask an elderly lady for money so that I could buy some milk. I’ve paid taxes all my life and now I can’t get a bed to sleep on." - Sue (a homeless woman in Merimbula)

Well-educated with a university degree, articulate and tech-savvy, Sue is defies all the stereotypes of homelessness but she has found herself without a roof over her head, no income and unable to get any help. Sue said her education and background counts for little. “University educated, professional, intelligent, articulate, they mean nothing when you have nothing and get nothing.”

She has turned to the very places to which she once donated and tried to get help at St Vincent de Paul, Merimbula but had a “negative experience”. Sue said: “To be treated like a nobody is demeaning when you already feel this way. Rudeness and judgment is not something I thought I would experience from a place I not only donate to but shop at.

“The Salvation Army in Merimbula gave me a sleeping bag, however again I was judged and aside from this unassisted,” she said.

There have been some individual acts of kindness such as the elderly woman at Pambula op- shop, who gave Sue a coat, a pillow, a warm scarf and paid for these items from her own money.

Sue was also full of praise for “Pat and Janet” at Eden Anglicare op shop where she was provided with a swag and where they also paid for two nights in a motel. It was a chance to have a shower and live a semblance of a normal life, if only for two nights.

“Today I went to the Catholic church and knelt. I just cried and cried and asked for forgiveness for whatever I have done wrong.” - Sue (a homeless woman in Merimbula)

“It’s demeaning, incredibly embarrassing and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. You see this on television and you make a judgment that these people are alcoholics or on drugs. I am dressed well, educated, not a gambler or drinker and yet some charities whom my understanding was to help the needy, have done the very opposite. When one already feels shame, embarrassment and a lack of dignity such charities only serve to make one feel even less worthless.

“There’s an inequality in the system. All my life I have cared for others. I’m not asking for four star treatment but where is the care for those that need it?”

Sue said: “I’m not proud to do this, it’s a last resort. Last week I had to ask an elderly lady for money so that I could buy some milk. I’ve paid taxes all my life and now I can’t get a bed to sleep on.”

As time has gone on Sue has become more upset by her situation and writes a diary:

“Today I went to the Catholic church and knelt. I just cried and cried and asked for forgiveness for whatever I have done wrong.”

Another entry reads:

“As much as I feel like a piece of scum there are people who do random acts of kindness.”

Apart from the lack of the many simple comforts that we all take for granted such as showers, washing clothes, a bed, somewhere warm, there is the emotional and mental toll that inevitably follows.

Sue said: “I have reached the edge literally. Each day is just another day in the prison of nothingness.”

OPINION

Sue’s situation developed after workplace issues resulted in her taking unpaid leave due to stress and anxiety. This reflected on her home life and she was asked to leave the home she was sharing.

She told the News Weekly that she does not qualify for Centrelink assistance.

It’s easy to make judgments about such situations and suggest that someone should have taken a different course of action but hindsight is a perfect science. There but for the grace of God…….

It is not difficult to see how this situation could quickly spiral out of control for Sue as life becomes a real struggle both physically and mentally.

Sue is someone standing on the edge of the abyss.

She needs both financial counselling and emotional support and most of all a bed to provide a sense of stability.

The next few weeks could be a critical turning point in this woman’s life. I desperately hope that it proves not to be a turn for the worse.

Anyone wanting to help Sue please contact the News Weekly on 6495 3333 or email liz.mccormick@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Denise Dion

Journalist

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