HOMELESSNESS WEEK runs from August 7 – 13, and apart from giving a donation to any of the noble charities providing succour to people on the streets, there’s a few activities you can take part in. Head to http://www.shelterwa.org.au/homelessness_week to have a look at the program of events. Meanwhile, the Voice presents part 1 of Madalena’s Story to raise awareness about homelessness.
MY name is Magdalena and I’m 61 years old.
I lived in my car for one year—it was my only home.
I had resigned from my job, lived off my savings and a small monetary inheritance from a friend for two years until eventually the bank foreclosed and I lost my home and had nine days to move out. I moved to Perth, planning to stay with my brother, attend uni for a year to change the course of my career as well as other things.
I had no criminal history, no mental illness, and held a responsible position as a nurse in a hospital in regional WA.
I was in good health all my life, didn’t even catch colds.
A couple of times in my life I took risks that didn’t pay off, and resigning from my job was up there as one of the worst.
I sought help from various places for the first time, such Crisis Care and Lifeline for a roof over my head.
One sent a man to meet me where I was parked/stuck in my car. He questioned me and promised to return the next day.
Excitement and hope loomed in me thinking my plight was over.
He didn’t come, but came the following night bearing the news there was nowhere for me.
He also used the information I’d given him against me; inferring I’d been lying. I was so shocked, so horrified that because I was living in my car I was so disbelieved.
I needed to prove who I was.
Imagine if you can what if feels like to have your identity wiped out; your family, your interests, your position in the workplace, the things that make yourself you to be so utterly disbelieved, the need to prove you are who you say you are.
A very lovely man and his wife came and talked to me for the first time on my first day in a new park.
I used to move to a new location every day so I didn’t draw attention to myself or frighten anybody.
This man came back because he was a decent fellow. Once he, his wife and children were stranded in a foreign country without any money.
He accepted money from a stranger. I guess he’d never forgotten it.
I’m a law-abiding citizen. I believe in the police and am appreciative of the difficult job they do. During my homeless year, I had two encounters with them and they were the lowest points for me.
They’d received a complaint. I was almost asleep when the knock came on my car window. Heart hammering with fear I discovered it was the police.
I was so embarrassed and hated being a possible law breaker. And though they were so helpful, making phone calls on my behalf, warning me about the area I was in, when they left the bottom dropped out of my world. Now I was known to the police—I went to a new low.
My immediate daily needs were: knowing how to reach the closest public toilet first thing in the morning, and waking up early every day in order not to be seen by the residents.
This is so vital for you to understand. The stress of surviving for me, of keeping alive, of not frightening anyone whose home I slept besides, of not attracting the notice of residents, innocent or those with evil intent, this stress never left me in this year. I was hyper-vigilant and it never left me.
For example, I hurt my hand badly—all my fingers and wrist were swollen, puffy, I couldn’t touch my thumb with most of the fingers nor could I sleep due to the burning pain. It took five months to heal, but to this day I don’t know how I hurt myself. I think this is because everything else but survival and safety was insignificant.
At some stage in the final two months of living in my car I was cut off from Centrelink payments because I had not received mail, because I had no address and I was aware of this starvation again.
Three days later and without a morsel of food I remembered another department and so I went there.
They fed me and sent me to a GP, who found my blood pressure was dangerously high.
Despite going on medication, it was consistently the same ranges, always above 220 and never below 120, putting me at risk of stroke, heart attack, aneurysm, among other things.
There was talk of putting me into hospital in order to control it I guess to keep me safe should I start to die.
The doctor also diagnosed anxiety and depression.
I wondered if the stress which I was living in, the effort to stay alive and safe and of not offending/ frightening anyone, was taking its toll.
I am currently awaiting a cardiologist appointment to find out the damage caused to my heart.
I was so afraid of my blood pressure. I was a time bomb about to go off at any moment and this bought on debilitating panic attacks; gripping fearful experiences and I truly feared for my sanity.
I honestly thought I was entering madness.
I struggled to hold on and not go over to the side of madness. That’s panic attacks.
All of this happened in the three weeks of me having high uncontrolled blood pressure and abated once my blood pressure was in the normal range.