Monday 11 March 2024

Mandy’s HomeGround apartment is her sanctuary.

After a lifetime on the streets, Mandy is now living in an apartment at HomeGround – the first place she has ever felt safe. For Mandy, HomeGround is somewhere to heal after a lifetime of fear, loneliness, and suffering. 

Mandy had a traumatic start to life. Her childhood was marred by domestic violence, neglect and her parents’ struggle with addiction. Her mother never bonded with her, and Mandy always felt unwanted. While she was close to her father, he was sent to prison when she was only eight years old, which was deeply upsetting and frightening. At the age of ten, Mandy ran away from home.   

“I was more alone in that house than living at the city bus station. I knew how to look after myself because I’d always had to. What I ran away from was the unhappiness of not being wanted.” 

Mandy lived on the streets around Auckland and in Northland – on and off – for 40 long years. Mandy had no schooling beyond primary and had to survive on her wits. She was constantly looking for food and a safe place to sleep.  

Life on the streets is dangerous for everyone, but women sleeping rough are even more vulnerable than men. The threat of violence and abuse is ever present, especially for women.Mandy was regularly a victim of random acts of violence.   

“I have been beaten within an inch of my life and bottled so many times,” she says. “But I am a survivor, I am like a cat with nine lives. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” 

Unfortunately, the stress of living rough took a huge toll on Mandy’s health and wellbeing.  Like many people experiencing the hardships of homelessness, Mandy developed addictions to alcohol and heroin “because using helped to blot out the bad stuff”.    

She had only rare and fleeting contact with health services and by her 50s, Mandy’s health was severely compromised. But Mandy considers herself lucky.   

Through the Mission’s social withdrawal programme, Mandy got the help she needed to overcome her heroin addiction. That’s when she first heard about HomeGround and applied for tenancy.   

“I would stand across the street and just stare up, watching it being built. I would imagine what it would be like to have my own place.”  

In late 2022, Mandy moved into a brand-new apartment in HomeGround. It is her first proper home since the age of ten.  

“I’ll never forget the day I got the keys; I was over the moon. Everything was brand new. I had never in my life imagined I would live somewhere so nice. My support worker told me that I could live here as long as I wanted. All he asked was that I leave the furnishings behind if I happened to win the lottery and decide to move out. I said, ‘Mate, I’ve already won the lottery! Having a home means everything to me.’” 

“My apartment is my sanctuary. I go in, lock the door and I can do whatever I want. I can sleep, I can cook, I can stay up and watch TV if I want.  

“It’s nice having neighbours, too. When I came out of hospital the other day, loads of tenants came to ask me how I was and gave me big hugs. I’ve never had that.  

“I love being up in the (rooftop) garden. We grow our veggies which means we don’t have to buy them from the supermarket. It’s helping me stay healthy. 

And at HomeGround, Mandy is getting the medical treatment she needs to live with her chronic health conditions.  It is easy for her to take the lift from her apartment downstairs to the Mission’s Calder Health Centre, where our doctors and nurses are experienced in addressing the complex health impacts of living in poverty and sleeping rough.   

“If I had a magic wand, the only thing I’d change is to feel better physically. Other than that, I have everything I need – and a better life than I ever imagined. Don’t get me wrong, I have my sad days, but I know how lucky I am to be here. It’s important to think about the positives and to stay focused on gratitude.”