Siala Robson stormed her way into Australian’s hearts earlier this year with her jaw-dropping rap and vocal skills that landed her a spot on The Voice.
What wowed audiences even further was the fact the rising star was living in a women’s refuge with her mum and five siblings at the same time, a place that was relatively stable for the 19-year-old who had so far spent much of her life battling homelessness and overcoming domestic violence.
Now an alumni of The Voice with a recording contract under her belt, Siala is using her platform to shed light on the crippling experience of homeless Australians.
The singer has partnered with the Body Shop Australia or their 2020 Christmas Campaign to end female homelessness in Australia.
“I feel like to break the chain of homeless we need to make it a more open topic to speak about,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s such a dark thing people try and avoid because they get ashamed of it… I feel like [seeing] it as a life experience and not an identity, not degrading people about it is just the way to do it.”
And she’s cracking open the conversation by sharing her own experience of both domestic violence and homelessness, bravely opening up in a bid to banish the stigma once and for all.
‘I was homeless at 12’: Siala’s struggle
“My childhood wasn’t that bright,” Siala says. “We dealt with a lot from a young age. Heaps of domestic violence, we were out on the streets, in and out of refuges, on couches… we just went through a lot.”
The eldest of six, Siala grew up with a single mum and says her pop was her ‘rock’ throughout her childhood that was marred by frequent incidents of family violence she remembers from as early as the age of five.
By the time she was a pre-teen, Siala had become one of the millions of Aussies impacted by homelessness, after an altercation with her mum’s violent partner that left her with no option but to flee home.
“The first time I experienced homelessness was probably when I was about 12,” she says. “It ended up just being me having to run off, something really bad happened and I ended up getting physical with the person who was hitting my mum.”
Siala ended up physically knocking out her mum’s partner and had to flee the home before he realised what had happened.
“I just like froze and was like ‘Oh my god I need to go’. And I just fled,” she says.
It’s a confronting, but not an unusual story.
New research released by The Body Shop Australia reveals that over one in three (35%) of Australian women say they, or someone they know, has experienced homelessness, while data shows that 61% of those who accessed homelessness services from January to June 2020 were women.
And like Siala, many people’s experience of domestic violence and homelessness go hand in hand. Between 2018–19, about 116,400 of the Special Housing Service’s clients had experienced family violence, 61% of those who accessed homelessness between January and June 2020 were women.
As a pre-teen with no home, Siala was one of those whose lack of stability saw her head down a very dark track.
“I had a lot of bad things happen to me because I was very vulnerable and I didn’t have anyone and then yeah, it just put me in a deep dark hole,” she says.
Ultimately, her mum came and found her, and the family fled the violent situation together, but with their violent home an unstable option they found themselves with few places to turn.
“Mum saw what my life turned out to be in that stage and we ended up shooting to a refuge,” she says. “At first it was just sleeping on couches at mum’s friend’s places and then we ended up in a refuge.”
‘Humans can be so cruel’: The homelessness shame
Like so many, Siala was left humiliated by the experience, trying to hide her lack of permanent home because of deep-seated stigma around homelessness.
“I felt embarrassed to tell people I was homeless,” she says. “I tried to keep it hidden because people are so goddamn judgemental, humans can be so cruel.”
“I was already so vulnerable I did want to be, you know degraded anymore.”
Of course, from there the story brightens. Siala’s incredible musical talent saw her nab a spot on Boy George's team on The Voice. Now she’s signed with EMI and is producing an album.
However, the stigma Siala encountered is deep-rooted – The Body Shop’s survey found that while 89% of Australians agree that homelessness could happen to anyone, 60% of Aussies and 56% of women say that it will never happen to them.
Siala is now hoping to use her talent to get the conversation going, releasing a cover of Crystal Waters’ iconic 90s anthem Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless) to launch The Body Shop’s campaign.
The 19-year-old has recorded a brand new verse to drive home the message to Aussies who loved her on the voice, but may have struggled to love her on the streets.
The Body Shop has pledged up to $35,000 of its profits this Christmas will be donated to Launch Housing, a secular community centre in Victoria that provides crisis housing.
It comes as The UN wraps up its 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
The annual international campaign kicked off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and finishes up today, 10 December, Human Rights Day.
If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual or domestic abuse, don't suffer in silence, call 1800 RESPECT any time of day or night.
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