Woman's emotional experience after becoming homeless in Sydney
Cathy* (not her real name) explained how she survived in her car for four nights. Interview: Michael Dahlstrom
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Thanks for having me in your temporary home.
CATHY: Yeah, temporary. Sorry. It's a bit of a mess.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: That's all right. Is the first time you've been evicted?
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Is this something that you thought would ever happen?
CATHY: No. Thing is that you think that at 53, you have your life together. And it's-- and it should be easing back into feeling secure and supported.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: You kept up your job as well?
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Does anyone at work know?
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: And you're a cook?
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Cathy isn't her real name. She asked that we change it and keep the lights off to protect her anonymity. She spoke candidly about the shock of being made homeless after being evicted from her Marrickville flat in January. Some edits have been made for clarity.
Can you take me through the day that you left the apartment?
CATHY: I got up about 5:00 or 6:00. And I had to work out what I could bring with me and what I couldn't bring with me. And I was just stashing things outside. There was definitely a denial of, like-- because I think I was shocked. It was like, I have to do this. I've got no other options. There's nothing else I can do but go into my car.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: How long have you been here for?
CATHY: Four day-- four nights.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Wow. How do you do things like charge phone or--
CATHY: I charge my phone in the car.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Yeah.
CATHY: And I also charge it at work.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Friends-- what happens there? Do they know your situation?
CATHY: Yeah. They know everything about it, yeah. But I didn't tell them about this homelessness situation initially because I didn't want to, like-- I don't want to be a victim. I don't want you to save me. I don't want you to rescue me. I want to work this out. I've got to work this out.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Is there any part of it that's shame as well?
CATHY: It's shame, yeah. Yeah. It's the shame of, like, God, like, my friends don't deserve to-- I've-- the funny thing is that I'm there with-- I'm there for them a lot of the times. And now that I need to receive, I'm like, no, it's too much trouble, like--
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Yeah, that's familiar.
CATHY: It's the first thing I think of-- is I don't want to trouble you. Like, this is crazy. I shouldn't be in this situation. Like, I've got to fix this problem. So yes, it's that. So I didn't tell them. I was like, nah, I'll just-- I'll be OK in the car.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Can you tell me what day-- what night one was like here?
CATHY: Night one I spent in [BLEEP] because I looked it up on the internet where it was-- where we could-- like, because you can't camp. But the trick is that you can live in your car anywhere. I don't have a sense of fear. But I have a sense of, like, what if someone sees me or, like, someone's going to look in the car or what if someone drives past and they see this woman that's stuck in a car? What are they going to think of her? You know? And so, like, I was-- there was a mixture of sadness and bewilderment and shock and a bit of anger and tossing and turning. I woke up. And it was like-- before sunrise. And I just couldn't go back to sleep. And a whole-- half the car park was already full of people because they were going to the gym there. And I was like, oh my God, do I have to get out of the car?
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Did you go to work the next day?
CATHY: I went to work. Yeah. I went and--
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Did you muck up any orders?
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Oh, wow.
CATHY: No. But by the second day, my mind was going fuzzy. Friday night-- there's a party-- there's people partying in the car park. Am I safe here or am I not safe here? If they get drunk-- like, I don't know what they do to homeless people. And I didn't sleep much the second night, either. So I was like-- by the time lunchtime came around at work, I was just completely exhausted. I go into the next room or the fridge or whatever-- completely forgot what ingredient I needed to get. That's not me.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: This is on day three?
CATHY: This is day three-- completely and utterly exhausted. Even in the morning, I just couldn't move properly. And I was like, no, I have to sleep. I have to find somewhere to sleep during the day. Otherwise, I'm not going to be able to get through anything. And I don't know how the majority of people who stay homeless work. And so yeah, I went to Centennial Park and found a shady spot. And I just crashed. I fell asleep. But I woke up in a pool of sweat.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: And so then we're getting on to Sunday. Saturday night would have been hot.
CATHY: Saturday night, though, I was getting a little bit dehydrated. But I was trying to keep up my fluids. But the thing is I don't have a toilet. No toilets are open till 8:00. I was having troubles of holding myself. And so I couldn't get to a toilet quickly. There were times I had to go down the beach and just go. And that was just horrible, to think that I'd had to crouch down and go. And I was busting.
So my health started to be affected. I was like-- then I-- while I was at work, I felt like-- that I was maybe coming up with an infection because of that. And so if I-- I knew that if I stayed longer and if my friends didn't care and pray for me, then I would have absolutely gotten sick.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Yeah.
CATHY: So what I did is that I had to-- I came down here and just went for a swim at night because there were some people there. I was like, I don't go anywhere where there's, like, no one around. So there were people there. And I was like, OK. I went for a swim in my undies and my top and just went in. And that cooled me down a lot. So that set me up for a little bit more comfortable sleep. And I had this, like, little fan with the ice pack in it. And I turned that on. I was like, oh my gosh, that's a relief.
I had a bit better-- a bit of a better sleep. But Sunday, I was a wreck, like, crouched down in a ball on the cliff crying. And then my-- I was contacting-- I voicemailed my friends overseas. And they contacted my friends here to contact me.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Yeah. Did anyone come?
CATHY: When I was crying? No.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Have you seen any of your friends face-to-face since--
CATHY: I've seen one of my friends face-to-face. Yeah.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: How did you come back from the crying?
CATHY: Firstly, because I don't find emotions to be wrong. It was, like, a relief that I let that grief come up. I don't know. Like, I just-- I was crying, crying. I come and had a shower, got changed, and got busy again, went to work.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: Yeah. Guess that takes us through to-- we've talked about all the nights. Does that take us through-- so next day then, when you find out that you've got a place to live in?
CATHY: Yeah. I found out yesterday. There's someone that has offered their granny flat as a rental.
MICHAEL DAHLSTROM: How did that feel?
CATHY: Oh, like-- I'm dumbfounded. I'm speechless. And I'm very grateful. You know how people talk about gratitude? This is beyond gratitude.