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Living Under a Tarp, in Her 60s

November 15, 2023

A continuing housing crisis has been hard on many. But for *Alice, aged in her 60s, and her dependent son, *Adam, it was a challenge they never expected to experience, as they were forced to sleep rough for many months in a north Brisbane park, struggling through a chilly winter.

In January 2023, Alice began to spend her nights bunkered down beneath a tarp slung over a picnic table in a north Brisbane park. A carer to her adult son, the two souls found themselves on the streets after their rental lease was not renewed. Thankfully, they started to receive regular support and check-ins from our Street Outreach Services team.

When they first engaged with Drug ARM’s Street Outreach Service in August 2023, they had already been living in the Chermside park for about seven months and were struggling through what was a bitter Brisbane winter.

Alice had received advice from a support service that Drug ARM ran free weekly barbeques at Aspley and so she attended with her son. They then became regulars.

When we talked to her at the barbeque, she had explained that their life had been turned upside down after being evicted from their north Brisbane rental unit.

She had been living there with Adam, caring for him after he was injured. However, there were complications accessing his Centrelink benefits which meant he hadn’t received any pay for several months. It saw them fall behind in their rent.

Despite paying all the rent back once their payments came through, when it was time for the lease to be renewed, they were evicted.

“We were living in a car for about three months until someone ran up the back of us in a car accident,” she said. “We then stayed with my sister but she only has a small unit and then she became unwell. We moved out… and then we were on the streets.”

For this vulnerable older woman and son, this run of bad luck, meant lying in sleeping bags under a tarp which had been flung over a picnic table. “We shivered to death like you wouldn’t believe,” she said, recalling the winter weeks.

When asked what had sustained her, she said it was the support from services, the camaraderie found among the many other people also experiencing homelessness and her relationship with God and her faith.

She said the weekly barbeques meant a lot to her and Adam as it was nice to have something to look forward to each week. She looked forward to the comforting food, conversation and emotional support.

“They are marvellous,” she said of Drug ARM’s street outreach volunteers. “They need a medal and to be knighted for the work they do. They are really, really fantastic community members – I can’t fault them!”

She said she liked going to the barbeques because a number of people congregated there and she felt supported. “It is such a worthwhile service, I can tell you. It’s very uplifting.”

What’s astonishing about Alice, is that despite the hardship she faced, her disposition had remained cheerful. She told of her dire situation with a smile in her voice, ever hopeful that she would be re-homed. In fact, she seemed more worried about others than herself.

“My heart goes out to all the homeless people – they are all good people – they don’t deserve to be homeless,” she said.

“You can understand why they may drink or do drugs. And truly, they would be lost without the help of these services. I hope these supports are ongoing for all eternity.”

“I will keep looking for somewhere to live. I have services looking for me too. I pray for myself and for everyone out here.”

Drug ARM’s Street Outreach Services team was compelled to raise the plight of Alice with Brisbane City Council Liaison Officers. Vulnerable people, like Alice, as an older woman and carer, should not have to live at risk.

Then, just weeks out from Christmas, we received the good news, that Alice and Adam had been assisted into housing. It was a Christmas wish come early for them. However, many more people remain living on the streets, dependent on supports and attending our outreach barbeques.

As Alice had explained, “Life can change in five seconds flat. Anything can happen. It can be due to tough times with the economy or a health issue. You just don’t know what can happen.”

If you find yourself in this situation, know that support is available and it is always best and safest to connect with services. Learn more about our Street Outreach Services.

*Alice and Adam are not the clients’ real names. Changed for privacy reasons. Stock images used.

Australia is in a housing crisis. Volunteer or donate today to help people like Alice and her son.

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