top of page

A life turned upside down

Women like Gemma*, who fear for their safety and their children’s safety, often resort to sleeping in their car.
Women like Gemma*, who fear for their safety and their children’s safety, often resort to sleeping in their car.

When our daughter, Lily*, was born, my partner and I were a happy couple. We were young parents in our early 20s, and we had a little house by the water where we brought our baby home to.

Fast forward two months and my partner became someone I was very afraid of, especially after taking ice. He would lock us in rooms, accuse me of cheating or stealing his money, physically and verbally abuse me, and threaten to run off with the baby. I knew I had no choice but to escape, so one morning after my partner left for work, I packed up all I could fit into my small car and left with Lily.

Sleepless nights

I tried to reach out to family as much as possible, but they were not able to offer us housing or financial support, so for many months, we couch-surfed at friends’ homes. Some nights were harder than others, and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome with friends, so there was mostly nowhere to go.

At our most desperate, I pulled over in a beach car park and took out a little foam mattress for us to sleep on. I often set up my car somewhere near a public toilet, the windows blocked out as best I could, but there were many sleepless nights.

I was also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the violence I was subjected to at the hands of my partner, and I couldn’t walk down the street or into a store without breaking down in panic. I was in a really dark place and wasn’t sure I’d make it through.

A door opens

The turning point came when I let down my guard and talked to my GP about my situation. He referred me to Orange Door, a support service for people experiencing family violence, and alerted Family Violence Services. I was terrified Lily would be taken from me but discovered that everyone was there to protect me and my daughter.

I was placed in the care of Salvation Army support worker Sandy at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, and my meetings with her were by phone at first. I felt really grounded and validated by Sandy’s involvement and remember counting down the days between phone appointments.

Sandy supported me emotionally and practically and linked me with Katie from Salvation Army Housing. After being homeless for almost five months, we were approved for a transitional property within three weeks. Sandy was always calling, asking if I needed high chairs, cots, if my baby was good for clothes, and things like that.

A safe space to grow

Though safe in my home, the darkness of my anxiety and fear kept surfacing, and Sandy referred me to a trauma counsellor. I have also been linked with my local Salvos church. When things have been hard financially, I’ve been referred to the Salvos Foodbank, and I love all the girls there. I’ve felt so blessed by their generosity and understanding.

When my car broke down, and I was charged $1000 for repairs, I was devastated, but Katie referred me to another Salvos worker who immediately arranged for the bill to be paid. There was no situation I presented that wasn’t met with opportunities for support and outreach.

The next chapter

I truly believe that I wouldn’t be alive if the Salvos hadn’t picked up our case. My child is a happy, confident and emotionally secure toddler. We are so content where we are and have a wonderful support network in place.

I am now a completely different person, and I credit so much of that to my environment. Being in a safe and secure place has really fostered my growth and recovery. I’m currently studying an online course and have been receiving help for my mental health for over a year now, including regular check-ins with Sandy and Katie.

In the Bible, Romans chapter 8 verse 18 says, “The pain that you’ve been feeling can’t compare to the joy that is coming” and that is exactly how I feel. We’ve been given a fresh start and a real chance at a better life.

*Name has been changed


The 2022 Red Shield Appeal is now underway. The campaign focuses on family and domestic violence to tell the stories of people who have experienced a personal crisis and connected with the Salvos. Through this connection, they have then accessed a wide range of support that has helped them address the immediate issue of violence in their lives and the flow-on effects. This includes financial hardship, homelessness and addiction.

Last year alone, Red Shield Appeal donations provided support and care to people in need on almost 1.9 million separate occasions. This year, the Salvos aim to raise $36 million in the campaign period from 1 April to 30 June to continue to provide support to support those in hardship across our nation.


bottom of page