I was just 14 when I first became homeless and I am 29 now. I was removed from my mother’s care at just 13 and experienced homelessness from a very young age and, in fact, all through my entire youth. For me, living without a home meant being on the street and relying heavily on the kindness of strangers who eventually became like the friends and family I never had. Being so young, and not even at working age, made it incredibly terrifying as I also had no income to find housing – navigating a fully-fledged adult life at 14 is just not doable. It took me more than 10 years to secure support and housing. That’s my entire teenage years. If it wasn’t for the support of friends and the Sydney Street Choir, I am not sure what may have happened. With housing, I feel safer, a lot calmer and I’m not constantly living in fear. But it isn’t without its struggles. There are so many life skills I am yet to learn because of the basic needs I didn’t have in the past. Homelessness needs to be worked out. There are too many people like me that have mental health issues and disability issues that are being neglected and not helped, especially youth. I really think this is a hidden issue that can only be fixed if we shine the light on it.” Jess said.

“Increasingly the rates of homeless young people are on the rise. Young women make up a large proportion of the homeless youth population due to family breakdown and domestic and family violence”, Ms Barker said. We need to make sure women and children are supported through appropriate and immediate housing support to prevent long term chronic homelessness”. – Pam Barker, Chief Executive Officer, Yfoundations 2021



My stepfather used to punch my mother a lot, every Friday night when they came home from the pub or the club, they had really bad fights, and I had to look after my brother and sister to keep them away from them. When I was younger, I used to cut my wrists, but then I decided it’s not going to get me anywhere. I just felt like I wasn’t wanted around my stepfather or my mother, because they didn’t look after me when I was a baby, my grandmother did. She was more like a mum to me than they were. And then, there was a lot of friction between me and my sister because my sister was getting all the favouritism from my mother. I know my mum used to come to appointments with my grandmother, but I just didn’t feel wanted by her, I only felt wanted by my grandmother. So, when I was about 14 or 15, I left their place to go and live on the street.

When I became homeless, I wanted to go to my grandmother’s place, but I couldn’t because my uncle was staying there at that time and there was too much conflict between me and him, and the only place I could think of was Kings Cross. I did leave Kings Cross and try to stay with my Auntie but we had conflict too, so I had to get out of there and then went back to Kings Cross again. My experience of homelessness was tough. I had to go into places like squats and refuges. Went to Samaritan House a couple of times. Went to one refuge in Penrith and one in Bondi Junction; I went to a few others as well. Then I went through them to try and get help to find a place. And the only way I could get a place was with the Housing Commission and that’s when I got my own house in Penrith. That was all from when I was about 13 to 17.

It was very stressful when you’re seeing your friends getting hurt by other people, or they’re having overdoses. And one of my friends had an overdose but she got better. I’ve had a few overdoses myself, but then I thought, “Why do that when the problem’s just going to be there all the time?”I was comfortable on the street, but then again, I wasn’t because you’ve got to find somewhere to keep all your stuff, and all my stuff got stolen on the street. You do have people looking after you, like people that you hang around with. But you also had people coming up to you saying, “Do you want sex?” And I’d say, “No.”When I was in Kings Cross I used to hang around the old snooker room that used to be upstairs in Kings Cross and drinking alcohol. When I was about 16, this guy came and picked me off the street. He took me in his car to go up to Melbourne because he wanted to see his family up there. But on the way, between Goulburn and Yass, we had a car accident. It was his car, but I was the one driving at the time, and I didn’t have a license. Instead of steering the wheel properly, I went over the rails at the end and rolled down the hill 10 times. So, lucky to be alive. We couldn’t get back to Sydney until someone came and picked us up.

Back in Sydney a detective at Blacktown Police Station, who has now become a good friend of mine, came and tried to find me and got me off the street and sent me back to my parents’ place. I stayed there for a little while until I got a boyfriend, back in ’91, and had two children with him. He wasn’t on the street and I went and lived with him in his place. After that, when I was 18, we got married and went up to Scone and lived there for a little while, but we split up and I decided to come back down to Sydney, got work and then I went to live in my own place in Penrith, underneath the Housing Commission.

My first child will be 29 in June and the second one will be 27 in July. I had other kids with other people, when I was about 21, 23, and 24. My third one, he’s 25. My fourth one is 24. My fifth one will be 23 in November. And my sixth one just turned 20 in May. I’m not in contact with all of them. I don’t have contact with my two oldest boys. And then when I was about 30-something I got married to my second husband. We didn’t have any kids – just had miscarriages. We were living in Lalor Park, that’s when I became a senior Soldier of The Salvation Army and I started working for Oasis Youth Community Centre in the city. I did coffee runs with them and started to have some street kids used to call me Mum. They still call me Mum from this day forward.

I’m also a grandmother and a street grandmother as well. All the other kids, that used to call me Mum on Facebook, they normally ring me or say how I’m going. Jess rings me, and her daughter is like a granddaughter to me as well, plus she’s got three kids herself. I’ve got five real grandkids and the rest are street grandkids. My real grandkids is from my first boy, that’s the only one that’s had kids. And the street grandkids are from the kids that call me Mum, and they used to come to me with their problems. They used to come to me if they needed anything like cigarettes. And if I said I couldn’t get them, I couldn’t. If I could, I would. Or I’d help them with other stuff like getting them into a youth refuge or anything like that. They used to all be in the Oasis Youth Centre but now they’ve got their own places all over the place and their own kids. My own grandmother was a Salvation Army person for about 54 years, before she passed away in 2001. And she brought us kids up in the Salvation Army, so we went to Sunday school, we went to church with her. I went to Guards and Sunbeams and done all sorts of things. And then I became a senior Soldier back in 2000. I was delegated in the Salvation Army in 1972, so I’ve been a Salvation Army person from 1972 till now.

Now I’m in a place with my partner, Monica. Monica and I met two years ago after her previous partner, Matty, had passed away. Me and Matty used to know each other from Salvation Army Streetlevel. He used to call me Auntie. Monica and Matty went for a cruise to Moreton Island. They wanted me to look after their house. I was having trouble with my ex-partner at the time, so I stayed with Monica and Matty, and the night before Matty died, he gave me a kiss and said, “I love you, Auntie,” and then he passed away. And then, me and Monica got together, and we had the funeral for Matty. And when I lost my mother last year, that’s when it got harder…. Without her being here. I love my mum, I do. We might’ve had fights and arguments, but when she had to go into nursing homes my sister and I had to come as the next-of-kin for her, and I had to look after everything for her funeral. She was under the Public Trustee, so they’re the ones who paid for it. My mother was an alcoholic, and well and she got me drinking too, and I became one too.  But I stopped drinking in 2005 and then stopped smoking in 2006, which was challenging. Then having my mother again through the mental illness, she had, we were having too much violence, but I just said to her, “I’m not coming to see you until you get better,” because I didn’t want to make the situation more harder. She was showing Monica a bit more favouritism because she could of talked to her more than she did with me, because we just had fights and argue with each other. But I always loved her for what she did for us, and like she got out of the situation she was in, like the arguments, the fights, the abusive stepfather. I told mum, “Just leave him because you don’t need all this crap that you’re going through.” She nearly got charged because she hit my stepfather over the head with a hammer because of all the jealousy he was doing, and then after that she left him. She went to Samaritan House and stayed at a farm for a while. And then she went into refuges and places for people with mental illness. She had a heart attack two days after I got married to my last husband. This place that she was at, Dame Roma, they had to keep her on the floor overnight, they couldn’t pick her up because she was too big. She was big, bigger than me. And she had a heart attack that night, and they had to get the ambulance and take her up to the hospital. Me and my ex had to go up to see her, and then after that she went to other places. The last place she went to was a nursing home in North Parramatta. She was bedbound, but she used to come into a special chair where they could roll her out to watch TV or do craft. And then on the 3rd of July I got the phone call saying that Mum had a very bad heart attack and passed away. I was very shocked. I had to ring up my sister, and brother, and everyone else, saying that Mum passed away. And then I had to find someone to do the funeral. The one that done the funeral was Major Bronwyn, down at the Macquarie Lodge in Arncliffe, that used to look after Mum at the time. And then I got Mum’s ashes – just up top there with the photo. But I gave some of the ashes to my sister, and some to my brother. So, we all got part of Mum. And that was the story of Mum because she was all over the place herself.

I proposed to Monica on the 1st of April, two years ago, and now we’ve been together for two years. And we’re getting married next year in May. So, we’re really happy.





I was born and raised in Broken Hill and Menindee out west in the country. I also lived in Adelaide. My parents separated when I was very young and I moved between Menindee and Broken Hill where I lived with my aunt’s uncle and grandparents. In 1993 I married and had my first daughter in 1994. I had my second daughter in 1996. Eventually my husband and I drifted apart and that is when I got mixed up with the wrong people and ended up in custody.  In Sydney, after my release and where my journey into homelessness began. But being homeless does not always mean living on the street. It can include living in temporary accommodation, couch surfing, living in refuges. Our experience of homelessness included being in temporary accommodation, being in refuges and couch surfing as well as living on the street. You feel more secure when you’ve got secure housing. When you’re living on the street, or in refuges, or couch-surfing, or temporary accommodation, you just feel like you don’t know where your next meal’s coming from, you don’t know whether you’re going to have a bed to sleep in from one night to the next. When I signed the lease on the place at Pendle Hill, I was jubilant, and I was so happy. It was my first ever lease and I was so happy to have secure housing and not have to worry about whether I had a bed to sleep in, or where my next meal was coming from.

I was in custody at in Silverwater jail and at Dillwynia Correctional Centre at Windsor until 2012. I feel that there’s gaps in the systems that are supposed to support people because a lot of people get out of prison and they don’t have anywhere to go. They end up on the street or couch-surfing, and a lot of them keep going back into jail because they’ve got nowhere else to go or they can’t get work. I noticed when I was in there, a lot of women were in there because it was the only life they knew and being in jail gave them a warm bed to sleep in and three meals a day. Some of them are able to find housing eventually, but some don’t. The women get out, and probably the men as well, but they keep going back, so they call it the revolving door syndrome.

When I was released, I went into a community offender house in Emu Plains because I didn’t have anywhere to live. Then I breached parole and went back into prison. And when I got back out, I went back to that same house, but it closed, so I went to live in another one out at Tomago near Newcastle and then one at Cessnock. From there I got a flat of my own at Cessnock but then I breached parole again and went back into custody. After I got out of custody again, in about 2014, I got accommodation with Cana Communities in Darlinghurst in one of their houses. Cana Communities is run by the Catholic Church. I was there for about a month but because of my parole restrictions I had to leave. My sister paid for me to stay at a hotel for a week, and then I went through Housing to get temporary accommodation. While I was in temporary accommodation, I met someone, and we were together as a couple, but parole didn’t approve of it, so I got breached again and went back into custody.

When I got out this time, I completed all my parole time, but I didn’t have anywhere to go so I went into temporary accommodation for the weekend. And then, because I had run out of my temporary accommodation, I went to stay at a friend’s place on their couch. That didn’t work out, so I went to a refuge but that didn’t work out either. After that I shared with someone in Blacktown for a few months, but then he accused me of stealing off him, so I left and went to stay with a friend of ours called Kelvin, he’s like a brother to me. Kelvin is one of the founding members of Sydney Street Choir and he introduced me to the choir. I joined Sydney Street Choir and I’ve been a member of the choir on and off ever since. Sydney Street Choir is more for people that have been affected by homelessness, or mental illness, or marginalized. We’re also in another choir, One Voice, that’s founded by Creativity Australia. With One Voice, they record with working people as well, not just people from the streets. They’re just for anybody, basically. But both choirs welcome anyone. Being in the choir brings friendship, companionship, community, and happiness – just by being able to meet with people from different backgrounds and get to know them, and make new friends, and be a part of something that is helping a lot of people.

I stayed with Kelvin in Redfern for about three months, and then I met Matty and moved in with him, at Pendle Hill. We went on a cruise and he proposed. But then a month after we got back, he passed away. I took over the lease of his place two years ago, and that’s when Tina and I got engaged. But then I went and had a fall, dislocated my knee in three places and tore ligaments, with nerve damage as well, and ended up in a wheelchair. I’m still in a wheelchair, they can’t operate until I lose weight, then they can do knee replacement surgery. I was in hospital for three and a half months because I couldn’t go anywhere until they got me a new place because the place at Pendle Hill was up three flight of stairs. After I got out of hospital, I moved into the place we’re in now in Westmead.