Driven to living life on the street

Rejana Robinson opted to live on the streets from the age of 16. Picture: Paul Scambler
Rejana Robinson opted to live on the streets from the age of 16. Picture: Paul Scambler

Today marks the start of Anti-Poverty Week. Reporter MANIKA DADSON looks at how we can help reduce poverty and also speaks to Rejana Robinson about her four years living on the street in Launceston.

REJANA Robinson was going on 16 when she left home for a life of squatting.

Rani, as she is better known, had no option than to leave her house in the state's south due to mental and physical abuse.

"I never had a Christmas or an Easter because we couldn't afford it," she said.

"The clothes that we had from eight years' old, we had until we were 10. They were short and tight and shoes didn't fit us properly.

"Because of feeling so left out for so many years, I thought the streets have to be better than this."

Rani said she had no idea what to expect when she caught a bus to Launceston.

"I was squatting in buildings and the police would rock up and I'd have to run," she said.

"I became a compulsive stealer because I needed food.

"It felt fun at first. It didn't feel like reality. But after a couple of weeks, when it all sinks in and you've got no help from anyone, apart from shelters and City Mission, it's terrifying.

"You go weeks on end with no shower. Your body deteriorates and you get really depressed."

Rani said she had to "watch out for creeps" and forced herself to talk to strangers for help - including making friends with bus drivers so she could visit her favourite place, Beauty Point.

Rani got help from Karinya Young Women's Service, in Launceston, but said she didn't stay long because she got kicked out for not following the rules.

Back on the streets, City Mission would provide Rani with food and it was at the Brisbane Street Mall food van where she met a man named Phil.

"He said to me, 'you can either take and take and take and throw it out the door, or you can take it and use it to your advantage and rise above where you are now'," Rani said.

That was one of the things that changed Rani.

"It's hard because you can get trapped," she said of life on the streets.

"Once you're so far in and that's all you learn and that's what you know, that's what you become.

"But I didn't want to get trapped. After three or four years of living on the streets, I saw that all these friends I'd made had grown up, they had a family, they had a home and I looked back at me and I was like, I'm 20 and I'm still on the streets."

But it wasn't until she got a puppy to care for, she met her boyfriend Waylon Bartush and found her dream house in Beauty Point, that she wanted to do everything she could to get off the streets.

"(Waylon) made me realise there's better things than being a bum your whole life because it's not going to get you anywhere," Rani said.

"He made me realise having a family and settling down was better than anything.

"He showed me how to love and made me feel like someone does care."

Small gestures make big difference to those in poverty

IT IS little things that most people could do that could help decrease poverty, according to state service providers.

Anglicare Tasmania chief executive Chris Jones said gestures such as giving unwanted items to charity, rather than holding a garage sale, and buying an extra tin of food to donate to services, could make a huge difference.

Anti-Poverty Week starts today and is a chance to strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and to identify actions to address the issue.

Colony 47 chief executive Therese Taylor said there needed to be more information sessions for people to learn how to get the most out of their money and that the government-funded Cost of Living packages should be brought back.

Ms Taylor said the packages contained practical information and items, including information on how to save on energy and food, curtains to keep out the cold and cleaning and hygiene products.

"I think we could do a lot more with helping people on low incomes stretch their money further," Ms Taylor said.

"It'd be a great incentive for us to have practical courses and there's plenty of places you could have them."

Launceston City Mission community relations and fund-raising manager Brian Roach said services were about providing a hand-up, not just a hand-out.

"We're really more interested in changing people's lives, rather than just giving them a food parcel or some help to pay their Aurora bill, it's helping them to find a better way," he said.

Anti-Poverty Week runs until Saturday.


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