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The Journey to Social Housing project brought together a group of older social housing tenants from Penrith, The Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains to discuss their stories of securing housing through Link Wentworth Housing (then Wentworth Community Housing).
Facilitated by community arts agency CuriousWorks, the tenants participated in a series of group workshops, followed by one-on-one discussions to collaboratively design their film, podcast and photo stories. The group workshops aimed to encourage collective and personal responses to negative stereotypes and stigma they had faced, while also celebrating their positive experiences and perspectives on housing.
The result is Journey To Social Housing, a collection of courageous stories shared through films, photographs and podcasts, describing each participant’s journey to secure housing for themselves and their families. Their messages help us to understand why the stigma and stereotypes they face are unjustified and that having access to housing should be a universal right.
“The Department (of Housing) offered me a brand new place in a street even worse than the street I was leaving and I said no to that, then they offered me the place that I’m in now, and that was 18 years ago. And I wasn’t happy, but I knew that I would have to wait much longer because then I’d be put on the bottom of the list.
“It’s hard for people in public or community housing at times to get work. Sometimes they don’t have a car, transport’s not available. If I didn’t have a car I’d find it quite difficult to do what I’m doing. Public transport in this area is shocking.
“I do volunteer with the Wentworth Tenancy Advocacy Group and I also volunteer for the Women’s Cottage which is the Hawkesbury Women’s and Kids Services and have done so for the past 25 years and they usually get me to do some sewing voluntarily because I’ve been a sewer since I was 12 years old, I taught myself.
“For people who live in community and public housing, a bit like me, you are always walking around with a bit of a stigma.”
Quotes taken from Mary’s stories
“I’m originally from Argentina, and came to Australia in 1971. I left my country because it was impossible to have a decent life there and I wanted to give my son a decent education.
“I was renting rooms and every 2 or 3 months the owner would say I need the room whatever the reason so in 6 months I had to move 4 times. I was just getting tired of moving from place to place.
“I call myself an artist because I am. The majority of times I was living in these cheap rooms, I didn’t feel comfortable but now that I’m here my colleagues come and visit me, I have private students here too, so here allows me to do a lot of things I couldn’t do when I was just renting a room.
“I care about the place that I live because it gives me an opportunity to live a decent life.”
Quotes taken from Peter’s stories
“My name is Sue, I’m now a community Elder.
“I resigned from nursing and started working in community, first of all being on the Aboriginal Advisory Committee with Council and then became part of the Justice Health team and now I go and listen to the Koori boys at the Detention Centres and getting them into their culture.
“I decided to go into broadcasting and work with Koori Radio, letting people know in the country what is going on with Aboriginal people.
“I was looking for somewhere to live and I was struggling with the rent and I got a lot of support from Tribal Council, Blue Mountains Council, so through letters and process I got a house.
“I’m very thankful to be in social housing because it’s given me a sense of security, they basically saved my life and I’m so very grateful.”
Quotes taken from Sue’s stories
“I grew up around North St Marys, it was housing commission and life itself was a lot different back then. You could leave your door open, no one would really hassle you.
“Around 2006 I became a foster carer. For 10 years I was looking after kids, usually related to me or extended family. I helped raise around 22 kids.
“Being an Aboriginal fella myself one of the issues that we always have to deal with is the element of security. This is where we’re from, our land, but all of a sudden we feel we’re in competition with outsiders who move here.
“A lot of people in real estate when they know you’re Aboriginal there’s this assumption we’re going to smash the place up or not look after the property so they can literally just turn you down and not give you an explanation. It’s just not a good feeling.
“There’s a lot of negativity particularly in the media against that small minority that do not look after their housing, but they don’t focus on the 90% of people who actually look after their homes.
“We need housing, if we can’t look after our Elders and our children, then what is there?”
Quotes taken from Steve’s stories
“My name is Raj and I’m from Sri Lanka.
“I was in Sri Lanka looking after my business when I got a message saying my father was on his end of life situation.
“Then I was asked to come and help look after my Mother who was very sick. During that time my wife was suffering from cancer so I had to look after my Mother plus my wife.
“We were struggling, and one of my neighbours told me why not you go to Wentworth Community Housing.
“I’m really blessed with one beautiful house.
“My happiness can be reflected in the place where I am living. So I have kept my house clean as much as possible. I always move with all the community people, the less fortunate people, to keep the people very happy. Because happiness comes only when you make the other person happy. That’s what I am trying to do at the moment.”
Quotes taken from Raj’s stories
“My name’s Carol and I’m born and bred in Katoomba.
“Mum’s got a bridge named after her up across the highway, it’s called the Aunty Joan Cooper OAM bridge and Dad’s got a piece of land going down the highway and that’s Digger Cooper Reserve.
“I’m an Elder and I do what Mum used to do, go out talk to people and do Welcome’s but the talking to people was the most important part because we all got to know each other, like we’re all coming together and knowing about each other.
“There’s so many people who have absolutely nothing, social housing helps them out, they get them into a place, they collect food and blankets and clothing and that for people who have got nothing so to me housing is just amazing.
“I’ve been in this little unit here, this beautiful place, for two years and I absolutely love it. I love this place, I’m home.”
Quotes taken from Carol’s stories
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Link Wentworth wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land on which we work and pay our respect to the Elders past, present and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.