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Kerry’s story: artistry transforms her life and home

You wouldn’t realise from first glance, but just five weeks prior, when Kerry first moved into her new home, her immaculately decorated apartment was sparse.

At the time, 57-year-old Kerry owned little furniture. But Kerry was just relieved to have a roof over her head. For the last 12 months Kerry experienced homelessness.

While Kerry finally has a safe place to live, she desired to have a home she could be proud to call her own. Kerry longed for her apartment to feel homely, filled with furniture, décor and personal items that are close to her heart. So, she searched Gumtree for free or low-cost furnishings.

Kerry’s artistic flair then came to life. Piece by piece Kerry has created a home for herself, styled to her own taste. And it’s a remarkable transformation in such a small timeframe. Hues of white, gold and silver work perfectly together. From her white Hamptons coffee table, to her matching cushions and scenic wall-art, Kerry’s eye for design is clearly a talent.

Emotion stirs in Kerry’s voice as she begins telling her journey towards making a new home. “Because I didn’t have anything for a year, I just wanted to have my comforts again, my colours. I just wanted to have nice things and appreciate them. It makes you feel better. It just makes you proud that you’re getting there.”

For a long time Kerry didn’t feel safe. For years this mother-of-two experienced an abusive relationship. When Kerry’s boys were young, she found the courage to leave and build a new life for her children.

“I worked hard for my boys. I just wanted them to achieve everything in life that I didn’t achieve,” Kerry shares.

Kerry lived in her ex-mother-in-law’s garage with her two boys all while battling a difficult court case, which resulted in large financial losses. Kerry’s story is all too common. A single mother who chose to stay at home with her children instead of working, was now left with minimal finances for her family’s future.

For the next 14 years Kerry rented a home in Sydney’s inner south. To provide for her family, Kerry found a stable job. And for seven of those years, Kerry’s grandmother, who also lived with them, provided rent support.

For a while, life was good. But just as Kerry began to feel safe, tragedy struck. Kerry was bullied in the workplace and consequently, injured her shoulder at work. The pain from her shoulder injury led to sleepless nights and ultimately unemployment.

“I hurt myself there, physically and mentally. After that, I was never really the same again and I lost my confidence,” she shares.

“I tried to stay on the job while I was injured and I think that made matters worse. My health and mental health deteriorated. I just crashed after that and I haven’t worked since. It took a lot away from me and I’ve never been able to get back up again.”

While Kerry received workers compensation payments, it was never enough. The loss of wages eventually took its toll. Kerry’s rent skyrocketed from $450 to $700 per week. And after Kerry’s grandmother passed away, suddenly Kerry was further out of pocket. Still supporting her youngest son through university, Kerry needed to source additional rental income so she could survive.

Initially, Kerry managed the payments by renting rooms to either family members or university students. In the short-term Kerry managed to get by. But the final blow came when the owners requested to move back into their property. Suddenly Kerry had no home.

Unable to manage $700 weekly payments on her own, Kerry struggled to re-enter the rental market. Traumatised from her past experiences of abuse at home and in the workplace, Kerry was worried about her safety. Sadly, she couldn’t find an affordable place to rent where she felt safe.

Kerry ended up on the streets. She bounced from friend’s couches to refuges. And she continued to feel unsafe.

Tears well up in Kerry’s eyes as she shares her experience of being homeless. “I was scared. I didn’t know where I was going, whose place I was going to. I felt embarrassed, I felt ashamed. I felt like a loser.”

But that all changed when Kerry met Patrick, a Wesley Mission caseworker. “He was the kindest, most helpful person. I just built up this rapport with him,” she says. “If I didn’t have him, I don’t know where I be today.”

Just after Christmas 2019, Kerry received a phone call from Patrick that altered the course of her life. Thanks to Wesley Community Housing, Kerry now has a place to call home in south-east Sydney.

“I just said yes straight away. I didn’t want to look. I couldn’t do it anymore. Because of my injured shoulder and poor sleeping patterns, I needed a bed,” says Kerry. “But I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it.”

When Kerry first left behind her home of 14 years, she said goodbye to her furniture and many personal items. Rebuilding her life again hasn’t been easy, Kerry says. But knowing the struggle Kerry was facing to rebuild her home, Patrick quickly organised a bed base, mattress and washing machine. Wesley Mission also gave Kerry food vouchers.

“When I left my place, I had to get rid of all my stuff because I couldn’t afford the storage. So, it’s like starting all over again with furniture. But I’ve nearly there and I’m starting to feel good about it,” she shares.

Sitting on her modern grey couch, Kerry is now surrounded by homely comforts. She finally feels safe. The bars on her windows provide a sense of relief. And she no longer fears for her life.

“It was Wesley Mission that picked me up and helped me, held me by my hand and got me through this,” Kerry says.

“I cannot thank Wesley Mission enough. I feel safe. I’ve got a lovely neighbour downstairs. I just feel like I can breathe again. I think you really appreciate what people do for you when you have nothing.”

And while Kerry feels safe in her own home, she recognises she’s still on a journey towards building her confidence to embrace life.

“I was never a homebody. I was just full of life and out there and enjoying life. But I’ve done a whole 360 degree. I’m a homebody. I’ll go to the shops early in the morning when there’s no one and I’ll go to my friend’s place when I feel safe.”

Kerry says she’s thankful to have a community who now surrounds her as she walks the next chapter of her journey. Downstairs lives her friendly neighbour, who she checks in with daily and often drops by with a meal. Kerry has also rekindled her passion for gardening thanks to Wesley Community Housing Officer, Liesa.

Liesa regularly organises gardening days run by the Royal Botanic Gardens. Kerry enjoys the tranquillity gardening brings and the ability to access fresh herbs and vegetables for cooking.

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) surfaced, Kerry continued to revive her gardening hobby, spending more time in her complex’s community botanical haven.

And while Wesley Community Housing are unable to host barbeques and gardening days for Kerry’s community, due to COVID-19, Liesa found creative ways to keep their community blossoming. Donated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Liesa delivered several planter boxes to Kerry’s complex for her community to grow more fresh vegetables.

As Kerry’s confidence continues to grow, telling her story is a big step in her journey towards a brighter future. She hopes her story can help dispel myths about older women facing homelessness. For Kerry, sudden changes to her life’s circumstances led towards homelessness. And Kerry wants her narrative to create awareness about the growing issue of homelessness for older women.

“I think a lot of people out there don’t understand that any woman in my situation could end up in the same place that I have,” she says.

Kerry’s bravery is inspiring for all women who have or are experiencing homelessness.

We’ll continue to support Kerry while she remains in transitional housing through Wesley Community Housing, until a permanent home becomes available.

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