“Ten years ago, I was working in kitchens. I was casual. I am a single woman with no super because of my age and I left a relationship that was dysfunctional, and I was homeless.”
Between 2006 and 2016 the number of women experiencing homelessness in the state increased by 75 per cent and continues to grow. There are more than 15,000 homeless women in NSW.
The pandemic has exacerbated the issue further with experts likening the situation to a ticking timebomb.
Homelessness is not just sleeping rough. It could mean living in unsuitable or unsafe temporary accommodation, staying with friends, or finding shelter at a refuge.
“We saw a lot of that through COVID – the sad reality is that women were placed in places that weren’t really suitable to their needs,” Monique Wiseman from Homelessness NSW told Nine.com.au.
Dr Jane Bullen, social researcher and Women’s Electoral Lobby agreed, saying “perhaps men’s homelessness is a little bit more visible on the street.”
“We know there will be a cohort of women whose financial situation will be impacted in a longer-term way.”
“A lot of women my age with different experiences would be facing the same crisis that is now like a tsunami,” Fiona said.
A decade ago, Fiona found herself living in an illegally-built shed in someone’s backyard, isolated and just trying to survive “day to day”.
“(In) Sydney I couldn’t afford to rent a property; I couldn’t compete as a single woman with causal work,” she told Nine.com.au.
“Whilst I was living in the shed every night I went to the library after work, and when the library shut, I would walk back to the shed and that was my life.”
Fiona now does her best to give back to her own community and said the wide-ranging issues that stem from homelessness reach far beyond not having a safe space to live.
“I would not be telling the truth if I didn’t say living from day to day there’s not a low-lying depression that lies beside you. It’s like your shadow in some ways
“One cannot go through homelessness without being affected by depression, your self-esteem is gone, the shame, you don’t want to tell anyone you’re in this position,” she said.
A bed is not always a safe space
Fiona believes moving into a house that was safe and secure was a turning point in her journey.
“I was very, very lucky that Women’s Housing had a vacancy and that they absorbed where I had come from, they listened,” she said.
“Every day for the last 10 years, every time I open that door my gratitude goes to Women’s Housing.
“It’s sort of like an awakening, of realising I’ve got so much potential, and that potential because I got this permanent housing meant I could eat properly, I had a bedroom to sleep in.”
Today, on International Women’s Day, a new project called UNSEEN launches to try and bring stories like these into the light.
It consists of a series of installations around Sydney’s Circular Quay and Martin Place and some of the pieces will be exhibited later this year at Government House.
Fiona’s photograph, along with those of other women who have experienced homelessness, will be printed onto the windows of a chrome car in Circular Quay for the first piece.
Belinda Mason, the lead photographer at Blur Projects, produces multi-media exhibitions that centre on people facing discrimination of many forms.
“I have worked on all different types of topics, generally taboo topics where people don’t really want to talk about them,” she told Nine.com.au.
Ms Mason spoke to all the women individually before taking their photographs and made sure they knew they were able to tell their stories on their own terms.
“It’s important to tell these stories so there is not a normalisation of problems.
“I think because when we look for news ourselves, we get to choose, the algorithms help us make those choices and keep those choices.
“We’re not really exposed to things we’re not accustomed to.
“It’s a very, very good way of letting the public know they can be a part of the solution.”
Ms Wiseman, who has worked in the sector for many years, said more visibility was essential.
“(The project will) highlight the ongoing needs for more social housing, which is incredibly important to bring down that number across the state and across Australia.”