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Everyone Deserves a Place to Call Home is an intimate collection of stories about people’s experiences of homelessness.

Trish Owen was a single mother struggling with mental health issues and substance use while experiencing homelessness, so she was given emergency housing. While she is grateful that the system caught her, she knows that people fall through the cracks far too often, so today she works as an advocate for hope.

I don’t look like someone who has experienced homelessness. I’m educated, I’m white, I can articulate my words, I have a university degree. But it hasn’t always been like this. It always confuses me when we stereotype what homelessness should look like. Similar to stereotyping what an alcoholic looks like. A person who’s wearing a big coat with a brown paper bag in the park. That is not my experience of homelessness.

From as young as I can remember, I always remember searching for something. Searching to belong, searching to connect, searching to feel a part of the world. And there became a point in my life where I needed help, where I needed something. I was hopeless. I had no hope. I had this internal lacking, and my story led me to looking for that connection, that internal sense of hope and wellbeing in all the external sources. I was looking for it drugs, I was looking for it in alcohol, I was looking for it in relationships. None of those gave me a lasting sense of peace or hope. And so the next option was to have a child. I laugh but it’s not very funny. So I had a child, I was 23 years old, and I was in a relationship that was not a healthy relationship. It was basically founded on our coexisting traumas and our solutions for that trauma, which was using drugs and alcohol.

By the time I was 23, I found myself homeless. I didn’t actually acknowledge at that time that I was homeless, I had broken up with my partner, and I had this child, and I was couch surfing between my uncle’s and my friend’s house, because where my friend lived was all my connections, my supports, and my uncle’s was the place where I could hold all my belongings.

I need to skip back a little bit, because prior to this, at 17, was when I first moved out of home. I basically did not like my mum’s rules, as most 17 year olds would probably relate. And I moved out of that home, my Homeswest Home with my single mother, into the house of a drug dealing paedophile, basically.

This guy basically just had a room, and I needed somewhere to stay, and it was with a bunch of my friends, and he was probably double our age, and so therefore the patriarch of that house. And this was the start of me using drugs to really fill that gap. I started using on a daily basis, and was introduced to different types of drugs, and also introduced to the depraving ways in which people try to fill that hole.

This man had a camera that was connected to a monitor in his bedroom. So we would go off to have a shower, and he would disappear into his room to watch “the show”, so to speak. This preceded my admissions into mental health hospitals.

Within the next few years, I was diagnosed with drug induced psychosis three times in a row, and then proceeded to have another diagnosis and found myself caught up in the mental health system. Which never really made sense to me, because the solution there was to use medication, where I was actually using drugs to make myself feel okay internally, looking for that sense of hope, looking for that sense of belonging and connection with myself and with humanity.

So, from that home, I think there was about eight, nine, maybe even up to ten different homes that I – I don’t know if I’d call them homes actually, different houses – that I inhabited throughout my late teens, early twenties. And we didn’t have the housing precariousness and the rental crisis that we have today. It was just kind of a normal thing, it was just what we did, go from one rental to another. I can’t remember my name being on many of those leases, or how the rent got paid or who did that, what the rights were.

But leading up to when I was 23 and had my daughter, that was definitely a low spot. I was depressed, my world was caving, all of these things and all of this effort I was putting in to make my life feel okay. I was working, I studied, I did all the right things externally, but I still had this sense of hopelessness, and when my daughter was born, I found myself in a mental hospital. For the first six weeks of her life, we were in Graylands hospital.

It was when she was six months old that I found myself homeless. So I had all of these internal struggles going on. The mental health problems, I was struggling with addiction to try and solve my mental health problems, and my relationship was breaking down, because as I said, that was founded on a trauma bond that was never going to be long lasting.

Because of these things, the mental health issues, the single parent, along with my privilege of being white, and able to articulate myself, and just falling in the right gaps, though they weren’t gaps. Falling in the right place in the system, I was put on the emergency waitlist for housing, and it was six months from my exit at Graylands that I found the home that I still inhabit today, and that was 2004.

This was the start of a sense of safety. A sense of stability, and it was a safe, affordable home. It was in a strata complex, connected with people who were, in some way, stable. I wasn’t in a flat were there were lots of different people with the same issues where we could compound off each other. I was in a place where my daughter could go to the same school for the whole of her childhood. I had connections to the mental health system. This was the start of me getting out of the mental health system, because as I said before, it didn’t make sense to me, those solutions. It was from this house I found community and safety within a church. I found connections with these people who just loved me and my daughter regardless.

I don’t think they really knew that I was going stoned, most of the time, but they loved me, and accepted me and my daughter as we were. And that was a hope that was implanted in me that I didn’t have before, and I definitely didn’t have when I was going between different houses.

It was from there that I got myself a degree. It was also in that time, early on when I was doing my degree that my daughter’s dad passed away. Although we had separated, we were parenting together, so it was quite a traumatic experience.

I just want to circle back to the time I was in Graylands, because this, going to church, was something that – I remember being in Graylands, knowing that my relationship was breaking down, knowing that I’d brought this child into the word, to fill something within me that nothing externally could fill, and it was a point of desperation, and I remember getting on my knees in that hospital and crying out “If there is something there, I really need help.”

I wasn’t brought up largely religious. My Nana did go to church, but it wasn’t really the religion that I was reaching out for, it was that connection to something bigger than myself. And at that time, on my knees, after I’d just fed my daughter, a lady from the chapel just came in, and she had this blanket that said “wish upon a star”. And it wasn’t until five years later, when I was walking into a church, and loved by these people, that I realised the inner connectedness of all these little incidents, and how hopelessness, when pushed through can actually turn into a source of hope and strength for other people. Like I look back on those times in my story, and they feel like something that happened to someone else.

And today, the work that I’m involved in is advocating for the voices of those who don’t necessarily have a voice, those that are still experiencing homelessness, those that are still gripped with the obsession of drugs or mental health issues, or just hopelessness. My aim is to make sure that my story is used to for the power of good so that people don’t have to fall through the gaps. That if I wasn’t white, privileged, educated, and had the trifecta of crap in my life, drug addiction, mental health problems, homelessness, and being a single parent, I probably wouldn’t have found the safety of a home to actually build my life to a point where today I am so baffled at how wonderful my life is. I’m not only doing work that I’m so passionate about and I love, but I have these strong, deep connections with something. Some people will call that connection God, spirit of the universe, whatever it is, but I have a connection with something deep within myself. A connection that helps me grow a connection with people that I can relate to, because I’ve been in the depths of despair, I’ve been at that point of hopelessness.

And hopelessness is death. Whether it leads us to actual physical death or just that death of soul and spirit. I’m passionate about all the voices being heard, and the honour and privilege it is to share my story, to be able to show that what was a hopeless situation can actually be turned around, and that can only be turned around when community stands together, when those gaps in our system are filled. There is no reason in a country like we have for us to have the homelessness crisis that we do, that we see today. So I’m hoping that my story will provide hope for those who might have related to some of those things, and also that as a system, as individual people in that system, we each do what we can do to bring hope where there is hopelessness.

 

Copyright © 2022 Trish Owen

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.


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