Mission Australia client Selvi shares her experience filming the SBS documentary series Filthy Rich and Homeless.

Selvi has three young children. She found herself homeless after separating from her partner. She has been living in temporary accommodation at Fairfax House, one of our transitional housing services in Kingswood, a suburb of western Sydney. She took part in Filthy Rich and Homeless, a three-part SBS documentary which follows five wealthy Australians who swap their life of privilege for homelessness.

During the series, philanthropist Skye Leckie spent three days living with Selvi and her children and Selvi explains her struggle to find a permanent place for her family to call home.

Between 2011 and 2016 the number of people experiencing homelessness in NSW increased by 37%, while in Sydney it increased by 48%, which is far higher than the national increase of 14%. This increase is largely due to a lack of affordable housing – there are 60,000 applicants on the social housing waiting list in NSW and less than 1% of private rentals are affordable for people on low incomes across Greater Sydney.

Selvi tells us what led her family to become homeless and details the support she’s received from her Mission Australia caseworker Editha.

Tell us a bit about what led you and your children to be homeless?

When my partner and I separated I was left with a one-and-a-half-year-old and twins who were six months old. Where we were living was $450 rent per week and there was no way I could afford that as I wasn’t working and Centrelink payments were not enough to cover it along with all other expenses. I found a very small granny flat that was somewhat affordable. The owners of the property had family coming from overseas and needed the granny flat back. We had nowhere to go as I was not being approved for any properties.

Fortunately, we managed to be housed in transitional housing provided by Mission Australia. We’ve been in that housing for nearly a year and despite all my efforts and the support of my case worker Editha, I cannot get any permanent housing.

It feels like I have no options. I cannot apply for affordable housing as I don’t work. I can’t get priority housing through the Department of Family and Community Services because they think I can afford private housing, and real estate agents and landlords won’t approve me because they think I can’t afford the rent. At the moment I am about to apply for the third time for long-term housing through Housing NSW.

The fact that I’m told I would have to wait 20+ years for social housing is ridiculous! I don’t need it in 20 years, I need it now.

As a mum, what does it feel like to not have a safe, permanent place to call home?

It is extremely stressful as I need to be positive and confident in front of the kids but I also have no outlet to vent or talk to anyone. It is very unstable and I’m not one to be able to deal with feeling this way. I can’t set up my kids’ rooms properly or even unpack half of my stuff because it just seems like a waste of time because our time is up soon. I don’t even know where to enrol my son into school because we don’t know where we will be living soon.

The constant requirement of having to go to open homes is highly stressful. The kids get all excited about certain homes and then I’m left with explaining why we won’t be living there.

What types of supports has Mission Australia provided to you?

Mission Australia have provided us with a house to live in temporarily which has helped us immensely. They have provided me with information and assistance with which organisations can help with food and electricity vouchers and have accompanied me to those interviews. They have assisted in providing rental lists for private houses and with completing forms that have needed to be filled out.

When did you first connect with Mission Australia and are you still in touch with Editha now?

It has been just over a year since contacting them and them providing me with a house. I meet with Editha often to discuss options and any other assistance I need. Editha and I are close and she knows my children well, who just love her. She has been very helpful in everything she can possibly do from her end.

What was it like explaining your situation and story to Skye Leckie as well as sharing your family’s space and routines with her?

I found it confronting having to tell my story on national TV, but I felt that it had to be told so that people could see that homelessness can affect anyone.

It was hard at first because it was on camera but we had a very good bond and talking came easy with her. She asked the right questions. I explained the situation I was in prior to being in this situation and then how I ended up here and she couldn’t believe the lack of assistance from Housing NSW and was surprised that someone like me could end up like this. It’s definitely more common than people realise. In all honesty she was quite disgusted that we are in this predicament.

What do you hope that people learn by watching your story on Filthy Rich and Homeless?

I want them to see that this can happen to anyone. When you find yourself having to ask for food hampers from charity organisations and assistance with bills is when you know you’ve hit rock bottom.

Filthy Rich and Homeless airs on SBS over three nights from Tuesday 14 August to Thursday 16 August at 8:30pm. It will also be available on SBS On Demand.

Read more: The reality of Reality TV – James Toomey, Mission Australia CEO

Read more: Trying to find a safe, secure place to call home – Interview with Mission Australia case manager Editha

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