• I am over 50
  • I am struggling to make ends meet
  • I want a quality affordable home
  • I want help when I need it
  • I Want A Good Life

Humans of Wintringham: Introducing Theresia

HOW - Theresia
by Comms Team

I came to Australia from the Netherlands as a migrant child at 6 years old. I attended several country Catholic convent schools, leaving when my parents took up yet another business interstate. That was the third business that they had started since moving to Australia. It was before my 14th birthday, hence no secondary education, but I joined in the family business.

I was barely 19 when I was married and had six children by the time I was 29. We started an engineering business, which went bankrupt and then after 18 years we divorced. I lost our home with no means to repay the mortgage.

After meeting a man many years my senior, I remarried but divorced again after 16 years. This time I was left with nothing – I had no job, no income, no superannuation – no economic substance. At Centrelink I was told I was unemployable owing to lifelong skeletal pain and surgery for a congenital bone condition.

I went back to study as a mature-aged student in my late 50s through Return to Study via Women’s Access. A girlfriend who gave me a roof over my head for eight months encouraged me to do it while I worked out what was next.

I applied to study philosophy at Deakin University and was accepted having fulfilled the criteria: a 500-word essay as to why I wanted to study philosophy, and I centred it around the theme: I need to learn to ask the right questions. Ten years later I graduated with a double major in philosophy and sociology and went on to do my honours.

I then used the knowledge I acquired to start various projects in my community. I rented a one-bedroom unit that became my sanctuary. One night a mini tornado blasted the roof off a large section of my home making it unliveable.

I was devastated. I was living in misery – no electricity, no warmth – it was awful. That’s when the real homelessness hit – when my children all came and helped pack me up and my oldest daughter told me to come and stay with her and just bring what I need – clothes and toiletries.

I was almost dysfunctional that day. I called my other daughter and said ‘please, can you come over?’ I felt lost. Devastated is not an exaggeration. I felt bereft, bereft of everything. Even though my children were great, and all of them made an effort to make sure I was ok. But the day they came to do the packing all I could do was look at them, and I couldn’t speak.

Everything that seemed solid, seemed to just to dissolve. My partner passed away just after I moved into Wintringham, and I didn’t want to burden my children with my life.

Being homeless for me meant that I lost my sense of self, my sense of identity, and to be honest, I didn’t care if I was here anymore. I was at a very low place. Although I’m an optimistic person, I wondered if I would ever have a home as I knew it again.

This is war of another kind – anyone who is homeless, or suffering domestic violence, or mental health – they’re fighting for their life! We don’t choose to be in a predicament that is totally out of our hands. We so badly need people to be humane and kind.

So when I moved in with my daughter I was almost 30km away from where I’d been. I was suddenly a very long way away. I was moving away from the shops I knew, the people I knew, the area I knew – but I was so grateful to have somewhere to go.

It was a big house, I had my own room. But all I really had was my clothes and my toiletries. Even just picking up a book from the bookshelf – it wasn’t mine. And you realise then, that having a place that you can call your own, not that I am talking about owning a house, I haven’t owned a place for a long time – but even just having your own home, with your own possessions, is just so important.

The kindness of my daughter and her husband really helped to get me through. My other children knew I was ok because I was with my daughter. One day, another of my daughters – I have five daughters – asked what was most important to me – and I said: security. And she said: “Stop looking on the open market, mum! Go to Human Services!”

When walked through those doors – it was such a deeply emotional shock, because I used to work there and help others. And now I was on the other side of the desk. When they saw me, I could hardly talk. They circled a place they recommended for me – it was not furnished – which suited me because all my things were in storage; and it was Wintringham.

My first thoughts walking into my new home were: “I made it! I didn’t think I could find something like this in Australia.” There’s an organisation called Humanitas and I went especially to Rottendam on a research trip, when I was studying, to see this place. It was eight stories, the well of the building was like a grand hotel. There were cafes and restaurants and it was open to the public. And I remember interviewing the founder who said: “People don’t want their lives to be controlled by others.” And it is very similar to Wintringham’s way – in the Netherlands it’s ‘an apartment for life’, and here it’s ‘a home until stumps’.

I can’t stress how important it is to give people the opportunity to maintain their dignity and sense of self, while also being respected as an individual. Having my own home now and the right support around me, means that I could restore my sense of self and my identity.

And then the homemaker came out – and I immediately started to imagine how I’d furnish my new home. My paintings were painted by family friends or were gifted so they were a huge part of me, and I was excited to have those back. And Wintringham helped me to put those up. And I have a lot of plants in my home too, and some very old furniture from my parent, which is a big piece of me; I have a picture of me as a one-day-old baby with that same furniture in it and it’s still with me today. And it is now my lovely own home.


About Humans of Wintringham

Humans of Wintringham enables our clients, staff and volunteers to share their stories, in their words. Many of these stories describe the hard realities of homelessness, while others touch on factors that contribute to these circumstances, such as domestic violence, poor health, drug and alcohol abuse, intergenerational poverty, sexual abuse, incarceration etc. Each story is unique, and powerful. We're very grateful to our inspiring and wonderful Humans of Wintringham, for entrusting us, and allowing us to share their story.

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International Women's Day 2023

How Can We Help You?
If you are over 50, struggling to make ends meet, want a quality affordable home and help when you need it. If you want a good life then contact us on 03 9034 4824.
Who We Are

Wintringham is a not-for-profit welfare organisation created to address the scourge of elderly homelessness. Wintringham Housing is registered in the state of Victoria as a Housing Association.

How Can You Help Us?
Wintringham values the critical roles of staff and volunteers. We also welcome donations and the generosity of philanthropic partners.
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