This interview with Elma Fleming is part of an oral history project celebrating 25 years of the Homeless Persons Information Centre [HPIC]. The project was conducted in 2009. HPIC was a telephone referral service operated by the City of Sydney for people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. Elma co-ordinated the Crisis Centre at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross for many years and in that role had frequent contact with HPIC. In her interview Elma talks about her childhood and professional life, day-to-day life at the Chapel, and her many experiences with homeless people in Sydney. In the excerpt below she describes some of the personal circumstances that can contribute to homelessness.
One family comes to mind, husband and wife, and they have two little girls. Now, the wife can get accommodated with the two little girls. It’s difficult to get them accommodated as a family, so he chooses to live in the car. You’re deemed homeless if you live as a family in the car so the children can’t be there. So, it’s really not a good plan that the mother and two children can get long term accommodation but as a family they’re really struggling. He’s got mental health problems so he can’t be employed and he also gets very claustrophobic. He’ll tell me that he’ll probably get out of the car ten times at night just to get – as he says – “air”, so. It’s also quite difficult to accommodate people with transgender problems and people with dual diagnosis: that’s mental health and/or drug and alcohol. They tend to become a pendulum: they go to try and find accommodation and they’re asked “Have you used today?” and they say, “Yes”, very often they’re told, “Well, you need to go to a drug and alcohol place”. So, these things are getting better but that’s hard. It’s also hard to accommodate a mother with her male child over twelve years of age because female refuges won’t take male children.