Werribee woman Jody Letts has gone from sleeping in a van to buying a new home.
In 2015, Ms Letts and her teenage daughter ended up sleeping in their van because it was too difficult for them to afford accommodation on her disability pension.
Ms Letts, who served in the Australian defence force for more than 10 years and left the army in 2001, said she wanted people to realise that no one became homeless by choice – rather, they faced a lack of money and resources to create opportunities for themselves.
After leaving the army, Ms Letts started working full-time in the public service. She began experiencing severe back, neck and shoulder pain.
Ms Letts, an East Timor veteran, was diagnosed with dental and musculoskeletal degeneration.
Ms Letts said her doctors declared she could not work, which she described as the first step in a five-year “downward spiral” which led to her becoming homeless, while also battling post traumatic stress disorder, depression and bipolar II disorder.
“The word ‘homeless’ is extremely different to me, than anyone else, I wasn’t just someone without a house,” Ms Letts said.
“I had lost all connection with community, family, basic needs, I lost who I was.
“When I woke up every day, I had no control over my life and what happened to it.”
But Ms Letts said that with assistance from a “phenomenal” Launch Housing case worker, she was able to access an early superannuation payment.
This allowed her to put a deposit on a Werribee house she moved into in November, 2016.
The house– which was “full of holes” and set to be demolished when Ms Letts initially purchased it – is now being adapted to cater for her disabilities.
Since moving into her Werribee home, Ms Letts has completed a diploma in interior design.
She has also started volunteering with the Council for Homeless Persons (CHP), advising government agencies, employers, hospitals and schools about what it is like to be homeless and the factors which affect people in these situations.
“It is about working with all these people to ensure we have equality for everyone,” she said.
CHP chief executive Jenny Smith said that data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed that one in 55 Victorians sought help from homelessness services during the 2016-17 financial year, with services turning away up to 92 people a day.
She said CHP was hoping a current senate inquiry into the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement would lead to the federal government increasing its funding for homeless services and social housing.
If you experiencing homelessness, or are at risk of homelessness, call 1800 825 955.