Homelessness Week 2023: Bernie’s Story of Lived Experience

After spending 40 years of her life in cycles of homelessness, Bernie was finally able to move into her own place three years ago.

Bernie moved into one of Uniting WA’s Independent Living Program properties. She says she has never looked back since.

Bernie is a lived-experience advocate with Uniting WA. She shares her story with the community to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness.

To hear Bernie share her story on ABC Radio click play below.

Growing up, Bernie had a father, mother and siblings. But she ended up becoming homeless because home was not a safe place for her.

Family trauma meant that Bernie was fighting alcohol and drug addiction from age 7. She had left home by 15 and lived mostly by sleeping in parks or crashing on friend’s sofas.

It was almost inevitable that Bernie developed a host of mental health issues- among them bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety and depression. She stayed at various hostels and shared accommodation over the years, but the environment worsened her mental health. Luckily, she was referred to the ILP program by a social worker.

As a survivor of family violence and sexual assault, Bernie said it was important to her that her home was safe and secure. The Uniting ILP team found her one such property – a rear unit which was securely fenced off at the rear and secured by a front gate with a keypad lock.

It was a wonderful feeling to have her own place after more than 5 decades of instability, Bernie said.

When asked what she’d like people to understand about homelessness Bernie said,

“That a place to stay is good but a roof over your head is not the end of homelessness, just the first step.”

“Homeless people need services – like mental health or legal help or social workers. So that they can have the help to get over what made them homeless in the first place.”

“Anyone could end up homeless. One day you could be the CEO of a company and the next day nothing. There is no typical homeless person.”