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Sam’s story of survival

12 October 2020

Poverty presents in many forms. COVID-19 has highlighted poverty exists in Australia and has exacerbated disadvantage levels, with the nation’s current unemployment rate at 6.8 per cent with more than 42,000 Victorians out of work.

The pandemic has also revealed how easy it can be to fall into poverty. You can have a safe place to live and a steady job, but can suddenly lose it all or find yourself dangerously stuck in a violent relationship. Domestic violence cases have increased throughout COVID-19.

*Sam fled several abusive relationships, first as a child and later when a boyfriend almost killed her. Fortunately she escaped and, with the support of Sacred Heart Mission’s women’s crisis accommodation, Homefront and the Women’s House, as well as securing a job, she found a pathway out of poverty and safety from violence.

Sam’s story is a tale of courage, resilience and demonstrates the critical importance of the community when people need help the most - something we can all relate to during the pandemic. Sam keenly stresses that her experience has not made her a victim; it has made her strong and independent.

During Anti-Poverty Week, we’re calling on the Federal Government to extend and increase JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments, to prevent people falling into poverty, and provide additional support for families, women and vulnerable groups to participate in the economic life of their communities.

woman cat web

The trauma, Sam says, began at five years old. While living with her three siblings in the family’s home, Sam says she began to notice her father being regularly violent towards her mother.

After five years of increasing violence, her father kicked Sam, her three siblings and mother out of their home, forcing them into homelessness.

“We didn’t have anywhere to be, we stayed in mum's car the first night. All four of us,” Sam says. “I had to wear clothes that were in the lost and found box (at school) because dad wouldn’t let us get our clothes out of the house. We just had the clothes on our backs.”

A childhood in poverty

Sam’s mother eventually found a rental property, but having nothing, the family slept on the floor for the first week, but slowly turned it into a home through donated goods. However, the traumas of the past started to invade their newfound home, as Sam’s mother turned to coping mechanisms including prescription medication and alcohol. Sam’s relationship between her mother had always been strong, however her siblings became distant and as a result over the years, Sam became responsible for looking after her mother.

“My mum was my everything… I literally looked after her and picked her up off the floor when she was drunk and on sleeping tablets and couldn’t look after me as a parent should for their child,” Sam says.

Years later, in 1998, Sam’s mother passed away from a stroke; “Her death totally knocked me for six.”

Sam grieved for a whole year; “She meant a lot to me.”

In the years following the death of her mother, Sam worked in a series of administration contracts, and eventually moved into a job in administration, which set her on a rewarding career path.

Escaping domestic abuse

In 2005, Sam left the ACT after her boyfriend at the time became physically violent and financially controlling and moved to Geelong to stay with her late mother’s sisters while she looked for jobs in Melbourne. Sam found a nice two-bedroom cottage in Melbourne and landed a permanent job in 2006. Finally, she felt a sense of calm.

Then the global financial crisis hit in 2009, and she was made redundant, but her resilience and survival instincts prevailed, and she found further employment just six months later. It was the next encounter, however, that really took its toll.

“That’s when I met the devil,” she says.

Sam met a ‘charming’ man and they started a relationship. However, after she moved in with him, his true colours were revealed, and he started to be physically violent and financially manipulative. With no loved ones nearby or family available to help her, Sam was trapped.

“I had no support network to break free of that… my family are nowhere to be seen,” she says. “The violence got to such an extent where I was unable to move.”

The tipping point came in 2014 when Sam’s abusive partner was arrested after neighbours called the police when they heard the abuse. The ‘devil’ was trying to strangle her to death - on her birthday.

“Thank goodness my neighbours called the police and took him away, and that I had a kind police officer to talk to.”

At Sacred Heart Mission, Sam found her feet again

It was after squatting in St Kilda that Sam came into contact with Sacred Heart Mission’s women's crisis accommodation, Homefront and was linked into the Women’s House.

“The staff at the Women’s House saved me,” Sam says. “Prior to that, I was literally running out of options for food. There was a time where I had gone without food for four days in a row and I had fainted because I didn’t know about the services.”

The sense of community and safety Sam found at the Women’s House allowed her to focus her energy on finding her feet again. After years of supporting her family and fleeing domestic violence, Sam finally had food, shelter and security and could start looking towards a bright future.

“Here’s a hot meal, here’s a safe space for you to be - that way of helping somebody is very empowering,” she says.

The feeling of being in charge of your life

“If you can start feeling like you’re the one who’s in control of the drivers’ wheel in your life, and you can start going to job interviews and meeting people… it gives you the foundation you need to move on from that phase.”

Sam is happily living in her own two-bedroom apartment with her cat, Pink and prior to COVID-19 had found fulfilling work in administration.

All her possessions in the apartment have been chosen and bought by Sam personally and are small symbols of her independence and resilience.

She is also in a long-distance relationship and has built a great support network of friends and colleagues.

“Things are good now. I have my cat and my own apartment to live in and then everything has just been getting better,” she says.

“I've found my sense of humour again; I’m starting to feel better in the community... Sacred Heart Mission saved me.”

Written by Nick Reid


More Mission news and stories

*Name has been changed to protect the client’s identity

Sacred Heart Mission acknowledges the traditional Aboriginal owners of country throughout Victoria and pays respects to them, their culture and their elders past, present and emerging.

Sacred Heart Mission has always aimed to be a place that embraces a sexuality and gender diverse community; everyone is welcome at our table and we believe a diverse community is good for everyone.
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