Having been homeless from 13 to almost 16, Chloe Herbert gets “quite emotional” whenever she sees a young person facing a similar predicament.
“I remember being that kid you see around Wollongong that’s got no shoes, looks ratty as, and everyone looks at you like you’re the scum of the earth,” she said.
“But nobody knows those circumstances that put you there, and how that was the safest place you could be right then.”
Ms Herbert, now 27, became homeless due to family violence-related issues.
“All of that trauma that was in my family made it impossible for me to live at home,” she said.
She ended up in residential care in Wollongong.
By sharing my story, if that means one person sees a homeless person in Sydney and gives them $20 for a meal, then that’s the best achievement I could have hoped for.
Ms Herbert later couch-surfed, slept rough in Wollongong, and at 14 shared a one-bedroom flat with, “a guy that got out of prison, a couple and another young girl who was 15”.
“There was no electricity and we all slept on ratty mattresses on the floor,” she said. “It was just awful.”
As part of Homelessness Week 2018, the Wollongong Homeless Hub, supported by Diploma of Community Services students at TAFE NSW Wollongong are establishing a ‘Homelessness Living Library’.
The project is designed to raise awareness of homelessness in the Illawarra.
Nine “living books” - Illawarra residents who have experienced homelessness – will discuss their experiences.
Each participant has been paired with a TAFE student, who as part of their studies has for the past few months supported and helped them prepare their address.
Ms Herbert is one of the “living books”, having collaborated with friend and TAFE student, Lisa Wrightson, 37.
Ms Wrightson said there was a stigma surrounding homeless people of “instantly having that label put on them as drug addicts or something else”.
“It’s made me a lot more aware of people’s journeys that made them homeless, or their situation,” she said.
“People don't stop to think of what’s happening behind that person, they just judge on what they see.
“Whereas for me, it’s more how their journey took them there, what it was that turned their life upside down.”
Ms Herbert, who completed a Diploma of Community Services at TAFE last year, now works for The Flagstaff Group as a Life Choices support officer.
She has been residing in community housing in Corrimal for about seven years.
“I’m always looking for opportunities to get rid of the stigma surrounding these types of issues,” Ms Herbert said of next week’s event.
“By sharing my story, if that means one person sees a homeless person in Sydney and gives them $20 for a meal, then that’s the best achievement I could have hoped for.”
Mandy Booker, manager of Wollongong Emergency Family Housing and Wollongong Homeless Hub said the event sought to break down the stigma of homelessness.
The ‘Living Library’ will take place on Friday, August 10 from 10am to 1pm at the Wollongong Wesley Church Hall.
Bookings can be made by phoning 4229 0562, 4228 0955 or via the Wollongong Homeless Hub Facebook Event page.