A Way Out of a Life with Fear: Sofia’s Story

21.05.15 Learn Blog SumoSalad

“I am so happy I now have my own little space to call home – free from abuse and safe to live the rest of my life happily. I don’t need to rely on anyone, and I have my freedom, a freedom I never thought I’d get.” – Sofia

At an age where many women look forward to retirement and spending precious time with family and friends, some women are faced with the shock of homelessness as a result of family or domestic violence.

The most recent Census shows that seventeen per cent of people experiencing homelessness in Australia are aged over 55; with this age group over represented among those living in temporary and insecure housing and at risk of homelessness. These statistics also show that about 36 per cent of older Australians experiencing homelessness are women.

A St Vincent de Paul Society service in Sydney’s West, Our Lady of the Way (OLOW), is addressing this growing issue by providing accommodation for single women over the age of 60 experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness.

OLOW provides assistance with finding permanent accommodation, finances, court support during Apprehended Violence Orders, divorce or property settlement, counselling and mental health, living skills, and medical support.

Having spent many years trapped in an abusive marriage in Lebanon, Sofia found herself deeper in crisis when her husband was left incapacitated after suffering a stroke. She had four children and no way of supporting them. Having been disempowered for so long, Sofia didn’t even know where to start.

Sofia’s Uncle encouraged her to come to Australia where he would help her find work so that she could support her husband and children back in Lebanon. With no other options, Sofia agreed to accept her Uncle’s help. With a heavy heart she left her children in Lebanon and made her way to a new country full of unknowns but with the hope of building a better life for her and her children.

After arriving in Australia, all seemed to be going well and Sofia put her beautiful singing voice to use, becoming very popular with the local Lebanese community singing at many weddings, events and restaurants. Sofia felt relieved and felt that Australia was the right place for her to bring her children and start a new life.

But just as Sofia began to see light at the end of the tunnel, things began to change. Her Uncle forced her to take on other jobs including brick laying and labouring, threatening not to bring her family out if she objected. Then came the abuse at the hands of her Uncle, someone she thought she could trust.

After years of living in fear of her Uncle, Sofia was finally able to have her children join her in Australia. Full of guilt at having left them behind, Sofia tried her best to reconnect with her children but the relationships were broken.

Her children, most of them now grown, took an instant dislike to their Uncle and left the house to live on their own, turning their back on their mother. Sofia was left with her youngest son and desperately tried to find some social housing so that she could escape the violence and abuse.

After patiently waiting for a house, one finally became available through Housing NSW. Struggling under the pressure, Sofia agreed to let her Uncle help her finalise all of the details. During this time, Sofia’s father became very ill, meaning she had to return to Lebanon to see her him before he passed. On her return, Sofia was shocked to learn that she had lost the house allocated to her, as her Uncle had neither advised Housing NSW of her trip to see her father nor returned any of their calls.

Sofia was devastated. This was the last straw for her youngest son, who also moved away. Desperate and shattered, Sofia turned to one of her older sons, hoping to sleep on his couch for a few nights.

“I remember getting on my hands and knees, begging him to let me stay with him,” Sofia recalls.

Devastatingly, he turned her away. As did all of her children.

With nowhere to go and refusing to return to the abuse at the hands of her Uncle, Sofia began sleeping in her car; a pillow and a blanket her only comforts. It was there, lying in the back of her car, full of fear and deep sadness that Sofia decided to call the homeless persons line and was referred to OLOW.

When Sofia arrived at OLOW she had major depression and anxiety, was suicidal, had no housing options and no family support. She had disengaged from all social activities, even giving up her singing – her true passion.

The staff at OLOW began on a journey of recovery with Sofia. They were able to work on a mental health care plan, reinstate her relationship with Housing NSW, reconnect her with her children, and even get her back singing with her choir. After a long hard road building her self-esteem and dealing with her demons, Sofia found herself getting back on her own two feet.

Just recently, Sofia received an offer of housing in an apartment. A place that she now calls home and where she finally feels safe.

Help SumoSalad #heatupthestreet with Vinnies so that other women like Sofia can live independent lives free of fear and abuse. Visit our site to learn how you can help.

Images used in this article are for representative purposes only.


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