Jo Fisher has held a stable job at the University of Wollongong as the manager of its bookshop for 30 years, yet still found herself staring down homelessness less than two years ago.
She has lent her story - and her face - to a new exhibition of Housing Trust tenants and staff portraits that aims to highlight the diversity of experiences of those living in social housing and break down stigma and ignorance, in celebration of the not-for-profit community housing provider's 40th anniversary.
The photographs were captured by acclaimed portrait photographer Tim Bauer, who has also photographed the likes of Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and seven prime ministers, among other famous faces.
The photos, now on display at Wollongong's Project Contemporary Artspace, are each accompanied by a QR code through which viewers can read the stories of the individuals.
Ms Fisher has been a Housing Trust tenant for over a year and a half now.
"I had a marriage breakdown and subsequently had to sell the family home," Ms Fisher said.
"I thought it would be easy to get a rental, and it wasn't".
She applied for about 25 properties in three weeks as she tried to find a new home for herself and daughter Eva, now 12.
Ms Fisher said the properties were already out of their price range by about $100, but then rental bidding would increase this gap to $200 or $250.
"We'd rock up to one [property viewing] and there'd be a line of 60 people," she recalled.
Ms Fisher and Eva expanded their search further and further out, and faced the prospect of giving up their beloved pets at an already tumultuous time.
"Women my age, coming out of those kinds of breakdowns, we're prime candidates for homelessness," she said.
"That was confronting."
They were not far off sleeping on people's couches when they secured a rental with the Housing Trust, and they - along with their pets - moved in in November 2021.
Ms Fisher said she felt they had "won the lotto" as they now had a secure and safe place, with no concerns about the lease running out.
"Now we're just enjoying life... When we open that door, it's home," she said.
Ms Fisher hopes those who see the exhibition will come away with the knowledge that this kind of housing insecurity can happen to anyone.
"But we're in such a crisis we've lost our sense of community," she said.
"I think this photoshoot shows that community."
Housing Trust chief executive officer Michele Adair said everything the organisation did was about people, so wanted to focus on them for the anniversary celebration.
"The character - whether that's love or energy, resilience, optimism, and obviously pride - captured in each of the photos fills me with joy," Ms Adair said.
"The fact that [Mr Bauer's] captured the diversity of people's hearts and stories in a way that is reflective of life for everybody is just amazing."
She said people were often uncomfortable talking about living in affordable rental housing because for so long there was so much stigma and ignorance surrounding those who called it home.
"There's an enormous difference between talking about housing and property, and talking about homes - and the difference is people," Ms Adair said.
Mr Bauer shot the portraits over two days, working in blocks of 30 minutes, and said the key was finding connection with people.
"I'm so genuinely interested in people's stories. That's what motivates me," he said.
University commerce student Razan Habara said Mr Bauer was "such a friendly guy" who made her feel confident.
Miss Habara lives with her family - mother Sabah, father Mohamed, younger sister Hajar and cat Juno (her older siblings Abdel and Asil have since moved out) - in the Housing Trust home they first moved into in 2015.
"It's probably the most stable house we've lived in," she said, adding that prior to that she had lived in five different homes.
"Housing Trust obviously gives us stability... and comfort at the same time."
She hopes this exhibition will destigmatise affordable rental housing.
"I hope people see we're just normal people, who live in social housing," Miss Habara said.
Valkyrie Browne credits the Housing Trust's support with letting her be herself.
Mrs Browne, a transgender woman, said she only came out after she and her family secured a home with the Housing Trust.
"It's that one less piece of survival you have to fight for," she said.
Prior to that, Mrs Browne and her family were homeless for a time and applied for 85 properties before they found emergency housing.
She said the barriers were cost and her employment status, as at the time she was a casual employee.
Mrs Browne and her family now live in public housing, but she said they would not be there if not for the Housing Trust.
She wants people to see the exhibition and understand that everyone should have a home.
"We all come in all shapes and sizes, and whether rich or poor... We all deserve a chance to get our foot in the door, literally," Mrs Browne said.
The exhibition runs at Project Contemporary Artspace at 255 Keira Street, Wollongong until July 2.
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