On a cold, rainy Melbourne morning I sat nervously in the board room of United Housing, an information session was about to be held for prospective tenants and around me sat 10 friendly faced strangers anticipating the next 2 hours ahead. I consciously tried not to look too stressed as I repeatedly checked my phone, waiting for a call from the police who needed to interview me
sometime that day due to a traumatic family incident I had reported, sadly not for the first time.

Waiting for the meeting to commence I sat quietly  watching the polite chit chat amongst my fellow applicants, while I mentally sorted through the logistics of my day…Had I remembered to pack spare undies in my 3 year olds’ kinder bag before I dropped him off? How do I make $53 last another six days until my next centrelink payment? and statistically, how dangerous is it really to drive a car without a working handbrake for at least the next few months?

As I looked around the room I knew that each of these people had a story of their own, all capable women with varying degrees of challenge to deal with. Was there someone here in a worse situation than me that deserved a house more than me? Most likely yes, but I was here and I would try my best to make this wish a reality.

My wish did become a reality and on the 8th December 2015 my small family moved into a wonderful United Housing Co- operative home. For the first time in three years I felt like I had taken my first full breath and was able to exhale. It was a chance to just stop and be present. I let that strategic part of my brain, the fight and flight, the stomach churning stress all pause while I took in the magnitude of what this new opportunity had meant to me. How would I ever let them know how much this has meant to me?

As the months passed it became clear that the house that United provided me wasn’t the greatest gift I had received, the greatest gift was the Co-op itself, the people. I wasn’t just handed a set of keys to secure housing, I was warmly and genuinely
welcomed, included, invested in, appreciated and validated. My confidence grew and my place in the world, my world, became clearer and my motivation to not only survive but flourish and succeed started to scream with conviction.

2016 proved to go on to present me with some of the greatest challenges of my life, legally, financially and emotionally all of which I approached with greater confidence knowing I had the support of a greater community behind me if I needed it.

In my short time with the Co-op I have been continually inspired by the commitment, strength and vision of the members who make up this community. Not one member has a life free from challenge but the Co-op seems to bring out the best in everyone at any stage of their life and it has certainly done that for me. I will always be so grateful for losing everything and going on to gain so much more…

Sara Donovan
United Housing Co-Op Member