Homelessness week 2022: Teenager’s stigma of being kicked out of home

Photo by Megan Fisher

Vanessa* had never intended for the whole world to find out. And certainly not like this.

Yet there it was, splashed across Facebook the day before her 19th birthday — her immediate family telling the world about her situation.

“I was absolutely mortified … I'd skip meals before I showed that I was vulnerable,” she said.

Her partner, his family and some friends stood up for her but everyone knew she was without a permanent roof over her head.

Her being kicked out of home wasn’t sudden, or a huge surprise.

There had been tension and shouting at home for as long as she could remember. Vanessa would barely go to school, and when she did go, there was always a problem at home.

The abuse escalated the older she got.

“I think people forget that and everyone just assumes the worst. They ask if you took drugs or did something bad? No, we didn’t.” — Vanessa

Once, she threatened to call the police on her family only for one of her family members to wrap a phone cord around her neck and say ‘call the police then’.

Her mum kicked her out over a minor disagreement.

“She told me that she was going to pull me out from my hair and then she told me that I had until 6pm to leave,” she said.

“Me and Mum used to fight a lot but that one day I felt ‘this isn’t right’, so I just left. I was a pretty sensitive person then.”

She called one family member for help only for him to say she had upset his partner because she upset her mum, and she would have to stay in her room if she wanted a place to stay.

So, Vanessa asked to be driven to Seymour, and went from there to her partner’s place for a few days.

When she returned home to collect her things and head to work, she found her mum had thrown her belongings on to the pavement and taken the $300 in her piggy bank and spent it at the pub.

“It wasn’t much, but it was all I had,” Vanessa said.

She ended up staying at a friend’s house out of town.

She had to catch taxis from her friend’s house each day to go to work and TAFE, walking between locations in Shepparton.

It was only when Vanessa admitted to her TAFE teacher she didn’t have an address, that he recommended the Education First Youth Foyer.

It changed her life.

“From one person willing to speak to me and show they care changed my life,” she said.

“Everything was a lot easier and there was a big peace of mind knowing I wouldn’t be kicked out tomorrow.

“Your head space is so much clearer, knowing that you don't have to worry about that anymore.”

She still has a fear of being uprooted, even after being in her own place for three years.

“It took me a while to feel comfortable at the foyer, and then I finally did and then I had to leave,” she said.

"It’s still stuck in my head, like a ‘do I have to leave?’ kind of thing. It’s not until I have something that's mine that I'll feel good.”

While she eventually was able to invite friends over to the foyer, the stigma of being homeless remained and other struggles bubbled to the surface.

Photo by Megan Fisher

“Everyone would look at you and think like, what did you do so bad to get kicked out of home? And I’m like, wasn't my choice,” she said.

“I think people forget that and everyone just assumes the worst. They ask if you took drugs or did something bad? No, we didn’t.

“I went through a lot of health issues because of stress. My eating wasn't right.”

Vanessa said she had to learn how to cook and to eat vegetables because she wouldn’t at home.

“I had to learn to be an adult at 18 when any other 18-year-olds still lived with their families or went out with their friends while I was trying to support myself and keep a roof over my head, so I missed out on all of that,” she said.

“I just felt really like I wasn't good enough kind of thing. And I was just so upset.”

“Everything was a lot easier and there was a big peace of mind knowing I wouldn’t be kicked out tomorrow.” — Vanessa

The foyer gave her a foundation, but she said there were so many other ways people could slip through the safety net.

“Although there are other issues and there are cracks in the system and everything, the foyer will work you through that,” she said.

“But it’s disappointing knowing we could do so much better to help people.”

Vanessa wished support systems focused on local issues, instead of being bloated agencies run out of major cities.

"Ask around about things and see what people are concerned about,” she said.

“Get to know a little bit more about people's lives and you know, what they're going through that have led them to a certain point, and then take it from there.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing or at risk of homelessness, call 1800 825 955 to speak with a housing and support worker from Beyond Housing. If you need urgent mental health support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.