“My children and I were sleeping on towels on the floor. When Vinnies dropped off beds, it was the first time my two-year-old slept through the night. Ever.”
Jazmin, who was escaping family violence with her two children, recalls life before Vinnies helped furnish her new accommodation.
“The cot was life-changing because if my youngest was going to sleep, then I was going to sleep. I was in zombie mode before that. It’s not easy sleeping on a bed of towels.”
Jazmin had been living in regional Victoria with her former partner, but had to leave quickly one day with just a duffle bag after his threatening behaviour made her fear for herself and her children’s safety. She was placed in crisis accommodation for a number of weeks by another agency and after being unable to find affordable accommodation in her home town, moved to Melbourne’s western suburbs, away from her support network of family and friends.
Many people facing homelessness often find themselves placed in housing with a roof over their head but literally nothing else. Vinnies is here, not only to help people find accommodation, but also to help them turn housing into a home. Although Jazmin found her unit in Melbourne privately, she was in the same situation, and called Vinnies.
“I didn't have anything. I’d been unable to gain access to our old house safely to collect my belongings. I was in a really tight spot.”
Jazmin says she’s still paying the loan for a car her former partner prevented her from taking. Jazmin had a good job in the past and has now emptied her superannuation to purchase another car. “I had to do it because I needed the car for the kids’ appointments and school,” she says.
Like many women in her situation, the fall-out will affect her long into the future. “The financial repercussions of family violence are devastating,” says Jazmin. “I had exhausted every option and had nothing left available, so Vinnies was a lifeline.
“The biggest thing was the washing machine. When I was in crisis accommodation, there were laundry facilities at $5 a load and I needed to do two a day, which I couldn't afford. So I was washing everything in the bath and shower by hand. Even when we moved to the new house, I continued to wash by hand to save money.”
Vinnies gave Jazmin a washing machine.
“The guy from Vinnies didn't just drop it off in a box and leave. He plugged it in and connected it to the plumbing, which was amazing. Little things like that make such a difference to someone who's very exhausted and stressed out. It was so helpful and just another one of the ways that Vinnies went above and beyond.”
Vinnies also provided Jazmin with a dining table and chairs, kettle, toaster, vacuum cleaner, fridge and microwave, along with Vinnies Shop vouchers, which Jazmin used to buy kitchen utensils. "When you're trying to stretch the budget, you are doing a lot of cooking from scratch. All the kitchen items, especially the fridge, made a huge difference. If you don't have a fridge, you can't keep leftovers, so you end up spending more money and the dining table was vital for maintaining the kids' routine and mental health. It's hard to feed children while sitting on the floor."
The benefit of vouchers for Vinnies Shops is that people have the dignity of being able to choose what they need for themselves.
“When I was in crisis accommodation, I was given a bag of clothes,” says Jazmin.
“I was grateful, but you’re already feeling fragile in that situation, and then to have to wear clothes that you wouldn't normally wear compounds the feeling. When I went into the Vinnies Shop, I found clothes I actually liked, and it brought back a bit of the sense of myself.”
Jazmin speaks eloquently about Lina, the Vinnies volunteer who assisted her: “She was so compassionate, non-judgmental and had a softness in her voice. It's hard to explain, but when you feel so detached from yourself because you're not in your space, you're not doing anything for yourself anymore, you're just trying to survive, it felt very human to have someone treat you so kindly.
"I remember I felt very uncomfortable asking for a kettle, because I can heat up water on a stove, and I was worried that I was asking for too much but Lina said, 'Nope, that's fine, I'll organise that', and she made me feel that it was completely OK. It's emotional to even speak about because it did so much for my self-esteem at the time, as a woman, as a mother, as a person. To know that I'm not taking up too much space, I'm not too little. I have some worth and it's OK to ask for a kettle."
Jazmin would love to return to work and is proactive at trying to access services.
“I don’t receive child support. The rent is huge and my expenses far greater than my income so I have to return to work, but I need it to fit into what I've got to deal with at the moment. I can make calls, even though it’s difficult to navigate the system. I'm still waiting for ‘escaping violence’ funding I applied for six months ago. It's very time-consuming to have all these appointments and to constantly have to follow up,” says Jazmin.
“It’s a lot of work being poor.” She describes her own mental health as being “exhausted”.
Thanks to Vinnies though, Jazmin says that it's no longer such a struggle to get through each day. "The beds, the fridge and washing machine mean I can keep everything running OK. And I know that if I do need help again, the support is there. For now, it's one step at a time.”
Name and image have been changed to protect Jazmin’s privacy and safety.