At 19 years old, Charlie had experienced homelessness twice, due to significant trauma and neglect from a young age that resulted in mental health issues. Here she shares her personal journey.
My name is Charlie. I want to share my story in the hope it will show that with determination and courage and the right support, you can achieve what seems impossible. But I also hope it shows how services like Taldumande can help make the impossible, possible.
I still remember my first experience with Taldumande, or "Taldy" as we like to call it. I was sitting in the intake office with my buzzcut hair and zero expectations. I wasn’t expecting to be accepted because by this stage I had been turned down by a couple of other services and I remember thinking “Nobody wants the mentally ill girl”. But the Intake Manager told me the words I desperately wanted to hear, he said, “Sounds like you deserve a chance Charlie” and I can proudly say today that really was all I needed.
This wasn’t my first experience of being homeless, it actually was my second. My family broke down when I was only 14. My home environment was very abusive and as a result I developed severe mental health problems. Back then I was living in a small country town that didn’t have adequate resources that could help me.
Through a series of distressing events, I came to Sydney and was admitted into a high security adolescent mental health unit. I was too unwell to realize it at the time, but it was there, where my parents abandoned me and said they no longer wished to care for me. So, from the ages of 15 to 17, I was homeless and literally living in a psych ward. I was finally discharged into a group home in Western Sydney, near Blacktown.
Yes, I was out of hospital, but I was still a very lonely, vulnerable girl. I remember hoping, that just maybe the group home would be like a family and that I’d feel loved. Unfortunately, I was not happy with how the group home was run, which caused me to feel unsafe.
I was exposed to drugs, poverty, and abuse. I quickly learnt that I had to be tough if I wanted to survive. While all this was going on, my mental health suffered and although we have come a long way in destigmatising mental illness, the stigma still exists. I remember one doctor telling me “when you finally die you can come and fertilise my lawn, maybe actually put you to some good use”. I’ve told this story before and people have said “how did he get away with that?” My experiences tell me, Doctors have power, and because I was vulnerable and scared, I felt like I didn’t have a voice, so I kept quiet.
Through a negative interaction at that group home I became homeless again, but this time I just didn’t have any fight left in me. I decided that 19 years on this earth was too long and I wanted to take my life. I fell into a deep depression and became institutionalized again. People kept telling me, once you find a home, you’ll be ok, but I thought the damage was irreparable, and no home was going to save me. But my Social Worker back then drove me to this place that sounded like Barramundi and I heard those magic words “sounds like you deserve a chance Charlie”.
I started out at one of Taldy’s semi-independent homes and at first, I really had my guard up. I remember coming home from school and my Case Manager back then, would ask in a chirpy voice “Charlie, how was school?” and I would start power walking to the back of the house. I was scared of her, not because she’d done anything wrong, but because I just wasn’t used to people taking such a genuine interest in me.
But thankfully she persevered and would act like nothing had happened. We would end up talking about school and what was going on for me. After my initial panic, this time became one of my favourite parts of the day. I slowly learnt that the Youth Workers genuinely cared for me too, and we’d go on outings. It may not seem like much for some - just going to the beach and having an ice cream - but when you’ve been stuck in survival mode for so long it brings a sense of normalcy that’s invaluable.
I had started my recovery journey but it was when I moved into one of Taldy’s supported independent apartments in North Sydney, that I really started to thrive. The area was amazing - it had resources I could have only dreamt of. I had the gift of my own little zen place and another two great Case Managers. And that’s when buzzcut Charlie with zero expectations disappeared!
I started to smile, I started to make friends, after four long years things were changing. I finally completed my HSC, one of the proudest days of my life, and Taldy was right there at my graduation cheering me on.
Last year I qualified as an assistant in nursing so I can help people, just like Taldumande helped me. Currently I’m studying a Bachelor of Nursing – it still amazes me that I can achieve high distinctions for assignments!
I’ll never be able to repay Taldumande with my words but I’m hoping I can pass their compassion forward and make an impact on other people’s lives.
The staff at Taldy are happy to report that we have recently helped Charlie sign a lease for a unit of her own through Department of Housing and move her into her new home. We are so proud of her success and will continue to provide a level of support to her, now that she has exited our services.
Help us continue our vital work with children and young people, just like Charlie.
Many of our programs fall outside government funding, which means we rely on money raised from individuals and organisations to continue our vital work.