Having a 100kg weight lifted off your shoulders is how James Etienne describes the feeling of when we gave the keys to a four-bedroom social home in Muswellbrook to him and his wife Elyse.
After selling their family farm to move to the Upper Hunter to help care for James’ sick father, the family found themselves spiraling into homelessness. With high rents and low vacancy rates, they struggled to find somewhere to live. After being knocked back for numerous rental properties they were forced to live in caravan parks.
When they were given a week to leave the park, through no fault of their own, they set up in a four- room tent on the edge of Lake Liddell.
Elyse says they like camping, but it is different when you are forced to. She and James tried to keep life as normal as possible for his kids, make it an adventure.
James felt like he had failed his kids.
“As a father, my one job is to keep a roof over their heads and I couldn’t even do that. That keeps going over in your head,” James says.
Almost a month in, a giant wind storm broke poles and ripped a hole in the kids’ room.
James swallowed his pride and asked for help. Upper Hunter Homeless Support Services got the family into a motel and within a couple of days they were in transitional housing managed by Home in Place. They were in transitional housing until James’ diagnosis with a terminal illness helped move them to the top of the waiting list and Home in Place could find a suitable property.
“To have no more stress, no more worry about if we will find somewhere to live,” James says.
“No one is going to tell us we have to move or take it away from us because we always do the right thing – pay our rent and look after the place.”
Born and bred on a farm, James says he is house proud. “It’s gotta look nice.”
The couple are very thankful for the support they have received from UHHS and Home in Place.
“Everyone has been really approachable and great to deal with. They don’t judge you, look down on us.”
Home in Place’s Muswellbrook Community Participation Officer, Kayla, caught up with James and Elyse while doing property inspections. Part of her role is to check on tenant’s well-being and see if they need referrals to services and social support.
“When people don’t have a safe and stable home, they can’t access the services and support they need; their kids don’t have stable schooling,” Kayla says.
“One of the foundations, one of our basic needs is to have a stable place to live. Once someone feels secure and safe, like they have got some longevity in the place they are living, most of their issues are resolved. Families get more stable and start to thrive.
She says Home in Place and Upper Hunter Homeless Support Service work closely together, on a daily basis, to help the Etiennes and other people to escape homelessness and to thrive in a community.
Elyse says the kids are doing well at school and love having a room of their own and a backyard to play in. The family now has a dog and James is planning to fix up the backyard with a cubby house.
“The safety and security is awesome,” James says.