The Big Issue : Edition 494
20 THEBIGISSUE25SEP–8OCT2015 I UNDERSTAND HOW people can become homeless. People like my mother. But in the end, she was one of the lucky ones. Mum had a hard life: she grew up isolated, poor and uneducated. Picking up low-skilled jobs, she eventually met my father, with whom she had four children. They never married. We grew up dysfunctional and poor, but not once did our parents rely on welfare – Dad was too proud; Mum too submissive to argue. This was the 1990s – welfare was Un-Australian, and women’s help- centres were few and far between. At 18, I left home. Life went on, and my parents’ poverty worsened. I helped out financially when I could, struggling by on my university student income. Eventually, my mother left my father. With my youngest sibling in tow, she went on welfare for the first time in her life, aged 48: single-parenting payments of about $350 per week. Too overwhelmed by the leap she had to take, and also too naive, she didn’t think she’d be eligible for government housing. So she didn’t apply. She went into the private rental market, where all she could afford was a dilapidated two-bedroom house at $250 a week. With 71% of her income going on rent, my siblings and I helped out with bills and food, when we could. She stayed in this damp, old house HOW MUM BECAME HOMELESS for 10 years, leaving only because the owners eventually sold it. Having been forced to move, she finally applied for government housing. But the waiting list was long and she wasn’t considered a priority case. To avoid living on the streets, she stayed in the private rental market and moved into a small, dated and basic two-bedroom flat – at $265 a week. Mum’s rent kept increasing, by $10 every six months. And $10 to a poor person is significant – particularly when receiving only about $660 a fortnight (my youngest sibling was now older, hence the decrease in Centrelink payments). Her rent slowly went up to $570 a fortnight after a few years. With approximately $90 left a fortnight to exist on, plus occasional extra money from transitory cleaning jobs, my siblings and I helped her out again. While this was now less burdensome, because some of us were now working, it really was a money pit. We were supporting our mother because the government could not, as well as helping to pay off a stranger’s mortgage. Eventually she had to leave this simple two-bedroom place because the rent now represented 86% of her income. And so, last year, we looked around again in the private rental market. But anything available was KRISTINE LANE HAD TO RECONSIDER HER IDEAS ABOUT HOUSING AND HELP WHEN A PARENT FELT THE ECONOMIC SQUEEZE.