Suzy Gillis moved to Armidale from the central west of NSW after being homeless for six months, even though she had an income of more than $100,000 per annum.
"I am the face of a homeless person, and when people think of homeless people, they don't think of professional middle-aged women," she says.
In fact, Ms GillIs is part of the fastest-growing homelessness demographic, although in her case, it was not through domestic violence or the breakdown of a relationship.
After her divorce and the dissolution of her mortgage 15 years ago, Ms Gillis rented and worked as a child protection caseworker in Cabargo, Mogo, Batemans Bay, Cooma, Yass, Goulburn, Cowra, Parkes and Condobolin.
Then in late 2020, a gold mine near the small town she was living in purchased leases in the area paying above-market rates and Ms Gillis was given a 'no cause' notice and 90 days to vacate the house she lived in.
There were no other places available locally, and because she was an hour from any other town that had something for rent, she'd have to take at least three hours off work the day she wanted to go and apply for the property.
Ms Gillis did that 20 times without success.
"I had a tenant's record that had everything up to date," she said.
"It was perfect, and no one could tell me why I was unsuccessful. The real estate just said we're really sorry, Suzy, we can't tell you why the landlord said no. And because there were always 25 to 30 other applicants, it was constant competition."
After putting her belongings in storage and taking what she couldn't fit into a shipping container to the op shop and the tip, Ms Gillis lived in a motel for weeks before moving into a pub. All the while continuing her work as a child protection caseworker.
"You realise what you can live without and what you can't," she said.
"I was caught up in a trap of having lots of money and lots of possessions, but what does that really mean after 90 days' notice? What really matters is having a secure roof over your head."
At the motel, she could only book in for a week at a time, and each time Ms Gillis booked in, she couldn't give them an address.
"I literally had no fixed abode," she said.
"But I was lucky that I had a PO Box so I could have my mail delivered somewhere.
"And at the pub, I had clients accessing that accommodation as well. And that was very, very difficult.
"I was horrified - I'd never been in that position before."
Ms Gillis's room above the bar was broken into numerous times so she kept all her belongings in her car, and every weekend, when live music and normal hospitality conviviality was too noisy, she hit the road.
"I literally lived out of the boot of my car, I would book into the pub on a Sunday night and check out on Friday, and I would drive around and book into a motel wherever I ended up and do my washing," she said.
"I was isolated from the Friday that I left work to the Monday morning. I only spoke to total strangers, and it was just a polite conversation.
"But I was lucky I had a car, and I got to see the country as well. So for me, it was pretty fun for six months or so, but it was costing me a lot of money, and I thought I can't live like this for the rest of my life.
"I had to deal with the circumstances that I had. I was fortunate because I had savings, and I had money.
"But what would you do if you are continually beaten down and frustrated or when you've got mental health issues, or you're on drugs and in poverty? How would you get a job living like that?
"The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I had an income."
After two unsuccessful applications for housing in Armidale, Ms Gillis' prospective employer had to utilise their network in the rental industry to secure her something.
"Even in the rental that I am in now, I have limited water pressure, the ceiling paint is flaking off, and there are no downpipes," she said. "And the landlord's fine with that. But my neighbours are lovely, I feel safe, and I love the job I've got."
She is currently the site administrator at Freeman House in Armidale, and before that, she was a caseworker at the Men's Special Homelessness Service in Armidale.
Ms Gillis now intends to stay in the area to do all she can for those in need of accommodation or a passionate advocate on their behalf.
"I really do love it here in Armidale," Ms Gillis said.
Anyone who is homeless or is at risk of homelessness can call Link2home on 1800 152 152 for information and referrals to services, including temporary accommodation.
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