Year-long journey for family to find a place to call home
UNTIL a few weeks ago mum-to-be Melissa Talbot and her husband Bruce were among the 105,000 Australians who are homeless.
For well over a year Mrs and Mr Talbot, their 13-year-old daughter Charlotte and 15-year-old son Hayden were living rough.
From sleeping in a tent to spending 12 months crammed into a tiny one-bedroom cabin at a caravan park, the down to earth family has been through a lot of rough times.
"When we first moved into the cabin we were happy but after being in there for a year we got cabin fever," Mrs Talbot says.
"You're living so close together that you start to bicker over stupid things."
Mr Talbot said it was particularly hard for Charlotte and Hayden.
"The kids argued a lot," he said.
"Living in close quarters, you know, those little things would end up with them picking on each other.
"They were sharing a bunk-bed and there was no room for any of them to escape.
Mr Talbot, 41, is a carnival labourer who is incredibly proud of going "cold turkey" to kick his life-destroying ice addiction.
At 34 years old, Mrs Talbot is counting down the days, hours and minutes until their third child enters the world in 16 weeks.
She is also struggling with a rare disease called amyloidosis.
The ailment, where the liver and kidneys do not process proteins properly, is so unusual that the only doctors specialising in the condition are based in Sydney or Brisbane.
The Talbots left their friends and family behind in Adelaide to move here so Mrs Talbot can get the specialist care she needs.
It was a tough call, but Mr Talbot concedes moving to Sydney would have resulted in him falling back into a life of drugs.
"There's no way I was going to take my kids to Sydney," says Mr Talbot, who supplements his casual jobs with the Newstart allowance.
"Ice was my only downfall.
"When I was on the drugs I couldn't control my money.
"As soon as payday arrived I'd start getting the shakes because I wanted the drugs.
"If I had 20 bucks in my pocket I'd go yee-haa.
"If I had 50 bucks in my pocket I'd go even better because I could get more ice.
"The more money I had the more ice I'd take."
Two weeks ago the Talbot family's year-long hunt for permanent accommodation ended, thanks to the determination of staff at Fortitude Valley-based homeless support organisation the 139 Club.
It's not flash, but the family reckons their new three-bedroom unit is a palace compared to where they've had to hang their hats since last year.
"The kids love it," Mr Talbot said.
"The thing we're most looking forward to is being able to move around.
"And it means security for us and the kids."
Over the past year, the staff and volunteers at the 139 Club have been the Talbots' saviours.
Without the organisation the family would have struggled to get their kids into school, they would still be living in a shoebox, they would have struggled to build ties in a welcoming community and they would have missed out on vital crisis support.
139 Club chief executive officer Sara Harrup said people became homeless for a myriad of reasons and they were not always living on the street.
She said many homeless people were living in non-secure housing - that is they sleep at friends' homes, stay at hostels and, like the Talbots, live in caravan parks.
"Most of our clients are male, a lot of them have mental health problems and drug addictions," she said.
"We see people as young as 14 and older people but the main grouping is males in the 20-50 age bracket."
"A lot of people, particularly with men, they become homeless when a relationship breaks up.
"They might have always been on low incomes or reliant on Centrelink payments.
"So when their relationship breaks up they're forced to live on a single income.
"The biggest common theme for us is that most of the people here have come from background disadvantage."
The Queensland Government liaised with homeless and other support organisations as well as concerned community members to prepare its coming housing strategy.
The public consultation period closed on June 30.
The eventual report will address a range of areas including making homes cheaper so more people can buy their own places; increased demand on social housing and support services; limited housing choices for people with low incomes; and addressing housing shortages in rural and regional areas.
"Some of the themes that have come through the strategy process is the supply and demand issue," Ms Harrup said.
"There are way more accommodation spaces needed and that's short, medium and long-term housing.
"If someone walked in here today it would be almost impossible to find a place for them tonight, tomorrow night or the next night.
"The other thing is trying to break the cycle of entrenched disadvantage.
"There's a recognition that homelessness is very complex and has lots of things that are contributing to it and lots of pathways in and out.
"Plus there's a need to help people sustain their tenancies, so budgeting and life skills.
"People who have a long period of sleeping rough have a lot of difficulty being surrounded by four walls so the support must really ramp up."
Helping thousands of people a year access breakfast, lunch and morning and afternoon tea five days a week as well safe sleeping areas, showers, washing machines, medical support, entertainment, support groups and services, classes and material aid doesn't come cheap.
The 139 Club receives some government aid but mostly it relies on the largesse of businesses as well as donations from average Queenslanders.
To find out how you can support the organisation's work visit http://www.139club.com.au.