“I originally came to Sydney to jump off the harbour bridge…. that was more than 20 years ago. I then spent the next ten years on and off the streets, between refuges, temporary housing and supported accommodation. I was a regular visitor to the local psychiatric units and only last year managed more than twelve consecutive months without an admission. Through my ups and downs I’ve found that I need to believe,
- in God (or a higher being)
- in humanity
- in myself
The other important part in my journey is having individual people believe in me. My family by blood, through adoption, by choice and through circumstances. Being part of the UNSEEN Project has been an opportunity for me to connect with other women who have walked a similar path of adversity and find some solidarity and strength in seeing how others move through this. I am reminded that while there continue to be women facing complex and diverse challenges to long term safe and sustainable housing – we as a community have a responsibility to ensure that their voices are heard. That these women are SEEN and their needs addressed.
One thing I really hope happens from this exhibition is that it can be a conversation starter…
You know, when I’m on the streets asking for cash, or lined up at a food van, or anywhere really, and someone takes the time to ask me how I would like my coffee, whether I would like two sugars or milk, it shows me that they care, that I’m a person with my own individual needs and that I have a choice in how I would like things done for me. I find that very empowering – that I have a say in how things are done in my life.
Or maybe, someone has come across a green shirt while sorting through things and remembered that I like green and set it aside for me and the next week when they come out on the food van, they say, ‘Hey, I found a green shirt. I think this really suits you.’ That’s just so personal. Usually, we get given all these second-hand clothes and things, and we sort of just get whatever fits, and we don’t really have any choice in that. But when someone has sought me out in the group and said, ‘Here, this is for you’, that makes me feel so special and wanted and important.
It’s too easy for people to just say, ‘Here, have your coffee, you should just be grateful for whatever you get.’ But it only takes another five seconds more to say, ‘Would you like milk with that?’ ‘No, thank you.’ ‘Okay, that’s all right. Here you go. Have a nice day.’ And I think many people forget that sometimes it’s those little things that can really change how a person takes the next step. And I think that when you’re offering me choice and empowerment, you’re offering me dignity and pride, they’re attached to that too.
But there are times when I can be really broken and mentally F-ed up, when I can’t even decide whether I want chocolate cake or vanilla, I just can’t process it, I’m not even at that point. I won’t be trying to be rude, maybe it’s that I’m so hungry I just have to put something in my mouth before I can even speak coherently so please just give something to eat, anything. Sometimes empowerment is even about giving me the choice of whether to make a choice or not; often many of us will but sometimes we won’t want to and sometimes we’re not even in a position to be able to make a choice that’s good for us.
When I talk about giving homeless people a choice, sometimes people say, ‘Oh, yeah, well I offered that and I just got told to F-off so I’m not going to give you a choice in the future, I’m not going to make those offers anymore.’ Well, that happens sometimes but my point is about the importance of making the offer in the first place and then being able to understand that sometimes we’re not able to deal with it. You know, it can be like when toddlers are over-tired and can’t make decisions for themselves. That’s when a parent has to be able to recognise that and step in and make the choice for them.”- Jai