Terri and Gary had filled their home with love. Home was where they thought they’d spend their golden years together until an unexpected tragedy turned Terri’s life upside down.

More than 116,0001 people are homeless on any given night, often through no fault of their own. Sadly women over 55 are the fastest growing group of people experiencing homelessness in Australia.2

Terri’s story, a world destroyed by fire

When Terri woke up, she was in a hospital bed. She was badly hurt and had been in a coma for ten days. But the pain in Terri’s body was nothing compared to the agony of remembering.

Terri’s home was burnt down in a horrifying fire. Her husband Gary, her partner of 35 years, had gone back into their burning home to rescue their dogs. He hadn’t come back out. Terri had lost her husband, both dogs, and all of her belongings. She was 55 years old, alone, and homeless.

Terri looks down with a sad look on her face. Text on image reads. ‘When I woke up in hospital, they told me my husband and dogs had died. There was just emptiness where my old life used to be.’

When Terri was discharged from the hospital, she had nothing. No documents, no photos, none of her clothes or treasured little things from home. It was all destroyed in the fire.

Someone arranged temporary accommodation in a block of units. That’s where Terri was for a month, paralysed by grief, and not sure how she could go on. But something changed when a Mission Australia Missionbeat van pulled up in the driveway.

A life-changing conversation with Missionbeat

When the team at the Mission Australia Centre heard about what happened to Terri, they brought in clothes and toiletries from their own homes for her.

Darlene, one of the amazing social workers from the Mission Australia Centre in Sydney remembers her first meeting with Terri.

“I saw a person who was broken. She’d been through this traumatic thing, and she was just stunned. I took her for a coffee and some hot chips and tried to work out what we could do for her.” - Darlene

“Her grief was the first thing. I got her straight into seeing our therapist while I worked on finding some stable accommodation. Then we looked at the physical stuff,” Darlene shared.

When someone has been through terrible trauma and they’re starting a new life from scratch, it’s easy for them to falter. Darlene wasn’t going to let that happen to Terri.

“She didn’t want to have to start again after 20 years in the one place. No one wants to do that. It wasn’t in her plans,” says Darlene, “We made sure we followed up with her – made her feel like she could get things done for herself.”

A blonde-haired middle-aged lady wearing glasses is pictured standing outside in the sun. Text on image reads. ‘My case worker, Darlene stayed with me through my darkest times. She was this constant presence. Darlene saved my life.’ - Terri

The first thing Darlene did was help Terri start to feel like herself again. Darlene noticed Terri had lost a lot of weight and her hair was overgrown and in need of a haircut. “We’ve got a beautiful lady who comes in to do hair at the Mission Australia Centre,” Darlene shared, “She was lovely with Terri – did her hair and made her feel good.”

With a combination of kindness and practical car, Darlene managed to get Terri into a public housing flat.

People like you gave Terri the fresh start that she needed

Darlene used donations from Mission Australia supporters to make sure Terri had pots and pans in her kitchen, and a food hamper to get her started. She checked in often – and encouraged Terri to keep seeing a counsellor.

‘At least I have a house now. And Darlene, she organised all this new furniture,” Terri beams as she shares about her new home, “It’s just a small thing, compared to what I have lost but when I look at that furniture, I know I’m not alone."

Terri takes a photo with her dog. Text on image reads. ‘Darlene reminds me, I still have my kids, a life to live despite losing so much.’ - Terri

Darlene is fairly blunt about what could have happened to Terri. “Terri could have ended up on the street. It wasn’t a crack she fell through. It was a sinkhole. And a lot of very vulnerable people are in that sinkhole right now. With the effects of COVID, the high cost of living, and the competition for rental accommodation, it’s getting harder and harder to find homes.”

Terri still grieves what she lost and some days are harder than others, but she knows that Darlene will always be there to support her. "I won’t lie, things are still tough. Some days I just cry in bed,” Terri shared, “But Darlene checks in. She reminds me, I still have my kids, a life to live despite losing so much. She showed me the good in the world.”

Hidden homelessness

Tonight, there’ll be women like Terri who have no home to go to. Some of them will sleep on the floor of a toilet block or on an overnight train. Some will hope they haven’t worn out their welcome at a relative’s place. Some will sleep in their car, or a tent – frightened of noises and ashamed of being seen.

In a country like ours, nobody should be without a safe home. We know that with enough work and action, we can end homelessness in Australia.

Help give people like Terri the love and safety of ‘home’. Donate today

Name and images have been changed to protect the identity of the people we help.
1ABS (2018) Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016
2ABS: 2049.0 Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016

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