Hard times: Kristy Fawcett and Carlos Gomes are in "transitional housing".

Hard times: Kristy Fawcett and Carlos Gomes are in "transitional housing". Photo: Wolter Peeters

Kristy Fawcett and her partner Carlos Gomes admit they once looked down on people who’d fallen so badly through the cracks they ended up without a home.

‘‘I was naive, I would think that people who had nowhere to live had done it to themselves –  I didn’t realise how it can all just come tumbling down overnight,’’ says Gomes, who is now confined to a wheelchair or the sofa after a workplace accident.

The sofa occupies a large part of the cramped lounge room in a brick bungalow in Bonnyrigg in western Sydney, where the couple and their young daughter have found a 12-month respite from homelessness. 

But even this humble dwelling, with its brown and white checked rug flung over the front window in place of a curtain, is something they couldn’t have afforded without the heavily discounted rent  – $280 a week – offered by local community housing provider, Hume Housing. Normally the house would rent for more than $400 a week.

As it is, things remain a struggle. Their combined weekly income is about $930 and their outgoings, including loan repayments, a bit more than $800, but that’s before food, power and fuel.

Because their accommodation is temporary – formally classed as ‘‘transitional housing’’ – they will be on the hunt again in a year, battling many thousands of others to find somewhere to live in the overheated rental market, which has spread far beyond Sydney’s inner ring to the outer arc sweeping around the south-west, west and north-west of the city.

Housing expert Judith Stubbs of the University of NSW says her recent work shows there is ‘‘virtually nowhere in Sydney that a very-low-income household can affordably rent’’, findings backed by a recent Anglicare study. Those on the list for government-owned public housing can wait for between five and 10 years, sometimes longer, in this part of Sydney. 

Gomes, a 32-year-old former carpenter, was fit and paying off his own home when the accident left him with serious spinal injuries in 2007. He recovered enough to take up lighter duties with an auction house in 2009 but last year his back gave way again, this time tearing through several discs. 

He’s now on a 24-hour regimen of painkillers. In mid-2012, he gave up the losing battle to keep the small house he’d owned in nearby Mount Pritchard. After paying back some personal debts, he was left with nothing. 

The couple spent more than a year moving from one friend’s or family member’s house to the next, their possessions stored on the back of a mate’s truck, ‘‘living out of bags’’. 

‘‘I never thought we would ever be in this situation’’ says Fawcett, who continues working part-time for her own sanity, although she’d earn more by giving up work and accepting a full-time government carer’s allowance.

‘‘I don't want people feeling sorry for us.  I just want people to know that it's not just a bad crowd that ends up ... like this’’.