Women’s Advisory Group
The Women’s Advisory Group (WAG) held the inaugural meeting on the 26th April 2018. The WAG meets every second month with the Operations Manager, Lindy Parker and a representative from the Tenancy Team, Judy Cooper.
The purpose of the WAG is to provide a voice into the operations of the organisation.WAG Terms of Reference
Unfortunately during 2020, the group was unable to meet regularly and we are now attempting to re-energise this group. Renters interested in taking part in the WAG should contact Lindy Parker, Operations Manager to learn more about the group and what it entails. Feel free to give Lindy a call on 9412 6868 to learn more.
What is the Poor Middle Class?
Eight years ago Di had a responsible job as an accountant, a house that she owned and, although her marriage had broken down, a good relationship with her ex-husband and children.
After a series of unfortunate events including a failed business venture and a disagreement with the ATO (which Di is pleased to say was resolved) Di lost her house and found herself living with her parents.
Di lived with her parents for over a year, during this time she was mindful of the stress this placed on them. Taking matters in hand she searched ‘housing for women’ on the internet. Di soon became a tenant with Women’s Housing Ltd (WHL) in the Brighton rooming house. She was happy with the area, the location was close to public transport and she found a new job...things were changing for Di!
Di had previously owned and lived in a four bedroom house with two lounge areas. The rooming house consisted of a room with shared kitchen facilities and a common lounge area. She had never rented before and didn’t know what to expect. Even though Di maintained good relationships with her neighbours she found living in a rooming house tiring and challenging. She was very aware of the different opinions within the rooming house and while she didn’t necessarily agree with other tenants’ lifestyles and values she continued to be respectful and understanding, which can sometimes be difficult when neighbours are knocking on your door late at night. Di was on a huge learning curve.
Around this time Di’s health started to suffer. The stress was getting to her. Medical expenses were high and morale was low. She was frustrated by people judging her position. “Walk in my shoes $224 a week is just not enough when paying rent. Centrelink is poverty”. She never expected to be in this situation, living one day to the next, dealing with Centrelink, struggling to buy stockings for a job interview.
“How did this happen?” Di calls herself the poor middleclass. She explains this as ‘coming from a good family but fallen on bad times in my 50s’.
Di felt isolated and alone but she persevered. She was proactive and learned to live thrifty, got a good doctor and took advantage of all available opportunities. She cultivated compassion, empathy, motivation and enthusiasm.
The Brighton rooming house was home to Di for 2.5 years before a community housing property at Bentleigh became available. Bentleigh provided Di with a home, space and privacy, finally Di had a stable environment and she was able to work on improving her health. Di has developed supportive relationships with her neighbours at Bentleigh and feels part of a strong community.
Through WHL Di has had the opportunity to be part of the Money For Jam project, has participated in Blue Chip Minds workshops and is currently a member of the Women’s Advisory Group (WAG). Her contribution is valued by WHL and the other tenants involved.
“While I have the time I’ll make the time to contribute.”
The support and empathy of Women’s Housing Ltd has helped Di get back on her feet. She is grateful for what she has and feels fortunate for the help WHL have provided.
“I would love to know that the directors get to read this, I want them to know how Women’s Housing Ltd has changed my life. I’m extremely grateful for the extra assistance the staff has provided me over the years it has given me back a good quality of life.”
Di hopes that sharing her story may help women experiencing the same path realise that they are not alone or the only one going through it. She understands how isolating life can be.
WHL would like to thank Di for sharing her experiences, time and insights and we hope that her story will give other women strength to connect with people and support services and encourage them to never give up.
A series of unfortunate incidents and life takes a different turn
It had become apparent that I was highly unlikely to be employed by anyone because, well I still haven’t discerned the answer to why an eminently employable, presentable, knowledgeable and experienced woman with exceptional written and interpersonal skills couldn’t even get a response to an application for a job as a retail assistant. This despite an extensive and successful career in advertising and marketing, as a creative director and later as a freelancer with my own business. This was a career I loved, not only because it meant I had the ability to stand or fall by my own work without having to tread the landmine territory of office politics, but maybe equally because I could be sitting at my computer at 7am in my pjs and be ‘at work’.
Well there was ‘a series of unfortunate events’ that ultimately put paid to this career. In the twelve months between 2000 and 2001 my life changed (not for the first or last time as we all know) when I lost my mother, my brother and my lover.
I had been caring for my mother from the time she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of 66, until her death just after her 67th birthday, but still managing to work between her treatments and specialist appointments.
That snowball got rolling then and just grew over the ensuing months and I have never been the same since those losses.
Suddenly I became something of a hoarder and the major depression I had lived with my whole life now completely defined me. Sometimes I was incapable of forming words let alone walking from the bedroom to the kitchen.
Anyway, many, many doctors’ appointments and innumerable prescriptions later I was finally able to function again. As I had lost all of my clients and contacts associated with my freelance business I had to start again and the only door open to me was retail assistant. Long story short, I loved it and began to rediscover myself.
Then my elderly father who lived in Brisbane and suffered with myelo fibrosis, reached the stage where he really needed someone to accompany him to his regular transfusions, make sure he was eating properly and generally keep an eye on him.
Moving to Brisbane meant my life changed I lost my sense of self again.
I cared for him for 3 years and when he died I could at last come home to Melbourne.
I was eventually able to find work back in retail until around two years ago when the business owner had a major stroke and the business closed.
Since then I have become that cliché, an invisible woman of a certain age. My inability to find work trapped me in a cycle of poverty where I couldn’t afford to pay the rent where I was living but I also couldn’t afford to move.
Then on 8 September, 2017 I was approved for an apartment by Women’s Housing Ltd and my life changed. I can pay my rent and my bills. I can buy decent food and even a bottle of wine if I feel like it.
You know they say, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” and wow that’s so true. I had no idea how much stress I was living with until I was finally able to look back at it from the outside.
Now, again thanks to Women’s Housing Ltd, I’m doing a course to enable me to start my own micro business, in the process I’m reacquainting myself with some of my strengths and abilities.
I’m so grateful that my life continues to change and I’m excited to discover who I will be next.
A wonderful fulfilling life teaching internationally only to return home with no superannuation
When I asked Anne to tell me her story she said to me “I don’t want it to be a blame piece”. When you sit and talk to Anne it is obvious she doesn’t blame anyone and her faith and optimism shine through. I walked away from the conversation uplifted and positive.
Anne grew up in a predominantly Irish Catholic household in Cheltenham. Her mother was addicted to prescription medication. Fortunately, her father was the ‘rock’ for Anne and her sister. However, from a very early age Anne was conditioned to caring for others. She became a nurse and married at the age of 18. By the time she was 34 she was looking after two children, her sick, alcoholic husband and her elderly father while completing an Arts Degree at Monash. In 1993 Anne had another battle, this time with breast cancer. Anne fought this battle alone.
“I hit rock bottom after breast cancer. I was lucky I got back up.”
In 1995, Anne received some money through her tax return which she spent on a ticket to Thailand. She fell in love with Thailand and then in 1999 went to teach English there. Anne’s face lights up when she talks about Thailand and it is clear she had a real connection to the people. Her friends in Thailand gave her a nickname that she fondly uses now…Nong Chang (little elephant). Elephants are strong, sensitive and intelligent Anne believes her Thai friends recognised these characteristics in her. Anne stayed in Thailand for five years. During this time Anne experienced greater independence and she saw this as a way to exit the relationship with her husband.
In 2004 Anne moved to Japan to teach English at a Catholic school. She felt right at home.
It was in Japan that Anne was introduced to Al-Anon. Anne’s life, from a very young age, has been surrounded by substance abusers. Substance abuse or alcoholism causes chaos, and the focus is about looking after and supporting or enabling the abuser, but Al-Anon concentrates on caring for the carer. Al-Anon’s purpose is to help families and friends of alcoholics recover from the effects of living with someone whose drinking is a problem. Anne has drawn a great deal of strength from Al-Anon. Through her connection with Al-Anon, Anne gained the power to look after herself.
“I never knew I had the right to take care of Anne.”
Anne’s work life was spent in roles that were not geared to high income and with little or no superannuation she returned to Australia in 2012 with no financial stability. Anne quickly realised there were no work opportunities for 60 year old women and no ability to obtain a mortgage.
“Where am I going to end up? What am I going to do?”
Anne was referred to Women’s Housing Ltd by Centrelink Social workers. When Anne moved into the Mt Martha Rooming House in 2014 she was feeling isolated, lonely and suffering from depression and anxiety. Anne’s focused turned to getting well.
“I needed stability, security and time out to figure out what went wrong and how to make it better”.
Anne found a good, empathetic and kind doctor. She also tapped into the Mt Martha community, volunteering at a local school, visiting her local church and library and attending Al-Anon meetings. She was fortunate enough to have been able to financially support a car so she got in the car and went out and about. Anne enjoys looking after and walking other peoples’ dogs, so she used that as a way to connect with the community and get her outdoors, motivated and moving. Anne sees diet and exercise as an important step to staying mentally and physically well.
At times Anne has found living in a rooming house challenging, so many individuals with different needs and problems. She loves the space and gardens but feels the lack of privacy when you live so close with others. Anne has learnt to make her room her home this has helped her to maintain her privacy. She has also built a fulfilling life outside the house which gives her purpose and a feeling of usefulness. It helps that she feels supported, respected and heard by Women’s Housing Ltd.
“It’s funny where life takes you.”
Over the years Anne has worked on herself and is proud to say she has become a rational, grateful and resilient person. A favourite saying of Anne’s is “Gratitude is the attitude”. This is significant to Anne and she repeated it many times through the interview.
Although Anne has worked through some tough times she is still positive. She takes one day at a time grateful that her heart is still in tack.
“I feel very humble, I ask why me and not someone else, why did I get so much?”
Women’s Housing Ltd are delighted to offer Anne her own apartment in Altona Meadows. She faces this move with optimism, excitement and in a ‘gratitude is the attitude’ manner.