Stephanie's story - helping Stephanie break free from an unfair enforcement system

Supporting Stephanie's search for a safe home

Five years ago Stephanie was forced into homelessness after experiencing sustained family violence over the course of a long marriage. She fled the family home with nothing. She had no other supports.

For a short while she stayed in motels, including in regional areas, but she quickly depleted all her savings.

Unable to continue working as a nurse because of her experiences and a chronic physical injury, she relied on government benefits. But those benefits were not enough to support private rental and she spent time in a tent.

She found an empty and run-down public housing block and took shelter there. It was filthy and she spent days cleaning to make it inhabitable. With running water, warmth and somewhere to store her belongings she was finally able to maintain a part time job. But it was a dangerous place and she had no choice but to leave.

She managed to take possession of a van she owned with her former partner and for two years it became her home.

But, a car roof over her head wasn’t enough to allow her to get on with her life. She couldn’t do anything but attend to her essential needs.

To make things worse, she continually received parking fines. The only safe parking spots were in the city in well-lit areas, but they were time restricted. She tried to keep up, but moving every one or two hours was unmanageable.

Knowing that the law allows personal hardship like this to be taken into account, IMCL helped Stephanie to have the fines waived. Without that extra burden she was able to concentrate on finding appropriate accommodation.

While Stephanie achieved a good result, the fines process is resource intensive for community legal centres like IMCL and also for the courts. So, when the City of Melbourne proposed fining even more people for sleeping rough, we used our experience with cases like Stephanie’s to explain to the Council that it just didn’t make economic sense and simply wasn’t fair. Our view was echoed by many other services and as a result the Council changed its mind.