My Dad was dying and we were living in his work van
Will* was only 11 when his family became homeless. His Dad, Mark*, was terminally ill with cancer and too sick to work. Before long, all of his savings were gone and he simply couldn’t pay the rent.
Heartbreakingly, the family was evicted from their home. With barely enough money for food, let alone a cheap motel room, the only option for Mark, Will and his brother Noah*, 15, was to move into the one thing they had left: Mark’s old work van.
I had to say goodbye to my home.
Right now in Australia, 105,237 people have no safe place to call home1. Alarmingly, more than 17,000 of them are children under 12 like Will.
“Since Dad had no job there wasn’t enough money to pay our rent. We could only take a few things – like school and cooking stuff – and we put it all in Dad’s work van. That’s where we slept. It was awful.”
Sadly, this is a daily reality for thousands of Australian families, forced into homelessness by an unexpected illness, a job loss, the death of a loved one, mental illness or domestic violence. Any combination of these problems can leave families unable to pay the rent and at risk of homelessness.
For Will, it had been terrifying to find out that his beloved Dad had cancer. But to see how cancer treatment affected his Dad, to watch him vomit and lose his precious energy, was horrible.
“Dad had been sick for a while, and when he started getting treatment for cancer, he had to give up his business. Dad’s company was mostly just him. My brother and I wanted to help, but we couldn’t do the work for him. I felt so guilty.”
The last thing any parent wants for their children is homelessness. Mark tried desperately to protect his children from the harsh reality of their situation. But he was terminally ill.
I didn’t want my friends to know.
Every night, the family would park their van on a quiet street so that they were out of public view. They would wash in the toilet block of the local park. They couldn’t take showers and it was difficult to wash their clothes properly. Will and Noah had to go to school each day, hoping nobody would notice that their uniform was dirty.
“Dad wanted us to keep doing well at school. We tried to study but there wasn’t much space to do our homework, and we couldn’t keep things clean. I was embarrassed and I didn’t want my friends to know I living in a van.”
Tragically, Mark’s cancer treatment wasn’t working. He had to tell his boys that he was dying.
My Dad had a talk with Noah and me. He said he felt bad about everything, and asked if we wanted to live somewhere else without him. But we love our Dad and we wanted to stay with him and look after him.
Mark and his children were facing a bleak Christmas when the hospital where Mark was receiving treatment connected him with Mission Australia. This was the last night the family was forced to sleep in their van.
Mission Australia found Mark and his children temporary accommodation just in time for Christmas. We helped them buy basic furniture, bedding and a fridge. One of our case workers brought over some presents on Christmas Eve so Will and Noah had something to open on Christmas morning.
Will recently learnt that he’d been offered a place at a selective high school. Mark hopes that he will be well enough to accompany him to school on his first day. We will continue to give Mark and his boys the care and support they need. We are in it for the long haul.
“Mission Australia helped us. But I’m really worried about the other families who still don’t have a home. Can you please help them this Christmas?”
1 ABS, 2012, Estimating Homelessness, 2011 -
*Names changed to protect the people we help.
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