Cancer patient Jacqui is one of our 'hidden homeless' - but she's far from alone

Three months ago, Hobart woman Jacqui Stocks told SBS News she became homeless after her cancer diagnosis forced her to stop working. On World Homeless Day, she is still without a proper place to live.

Jacqui Stocks became homeless after a cancer diagnosis meant she was no longer able to work.

Jacqui Stocks became homeless after a cancer diagnosis meant she was no longer able to work. Source: Supplied

Chemotherapy treatment chills your bones and leaves your insides cold, says ovarian cancer patient Jacqui Stocks.

It's a big problem if you find yourself homeless during Tasmania’s freezing winter.

“I would have died if I didn’t find shelter,” the 54-year-old, originally from Bendigo in Victoria, tells SBS News. 

“Chemotherapy is a killer. No pain relief ever works, except for a hot water bottle.”

In June,  after being diagnosed with cancer in December and was no longer able work. At the time, she was sleeping in a friend’s “shack” while going through the “thick” of chemotherapy.

Three months later, as World Homeless Day is marked on Thursday, she is still without stable housing.

Ms Stocks after the completion of her chemotherapy treatment.
Ms Stocks after the completion of her chemotherapy treatment. Source: Supplied

“Nobody really wants to live with you when you are sick and undergoing chemo, there’s a lot of discrimination towards people with cancer,” she says, through tears. “I just don’t know how I made it through that time.”

While Jacqui is starting to see her eyebrows and hair grow back nine weeks after finishing her treatment, she is still sleeping in a shack. Another friend is letting her stay on their property, but it is likely only until Christmas.

Jacqui says her Centrelink Newstart payment of $555 a fortnight was just not enough to rent a place of her own.

“You can’t just throw people on cancer treatment in with Newstart people, they’re vastly different,” Jacqui, who has three university degrees and used to own her own small business, said.

“I’m not here because I didn’t want to work, or because I am not skilled or for whatever other reason, I am here because I am sick.”

According to the government’s Human Services website, the Newstart payment is an allowance for people who are unemployed and looking for work - not people who are unable to work due to health issues.

Because she’s been able to find shelter with friends, Jacqui is considered one of Australia’s “hidden homeless”, a group Mission Australia CEO James Toomey says make up the vast majority of Australia’s homeless.

“Hidden homelessness” refers to people who are living in unsuitable accommodation, including, when their shelter does not meet their health needs, is overcrowded or unstable, Mr Toomey told SBS News.

“Rough sleeping accounts for seven to eight per cent of homeless people in Australia, but there are a number of other categories of homelessness all of which are very challenging and difficult for people to experience,” he said.

“Just resolving the presence of rough sleepers is not the same as resolving the problem of homelessness. There is more to homelessness than rough sleepers and we need to attend to all of it.”

According to 2018 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, roughly 116,000 Australians are without a safe place to call home. Mr Toomey said this is

“One of the major underpinning features of rising homelessness is purely a matter of supply of suitable housing and rental housing that is affordable for people on low and moderate incomes, let alone any kind of income support,” he said.

“Cost of rent in Australia, in all cities and in nearly all of Australia, exceeds what is affordable for somebody on a low income and certainly on the minimum wage.”

Mr Toomey noted that there had recently been a spike in homelessness in Tasmania, where Ms Stocks lives, due to a lack of affordable rental properties.

"No real estate would look at you for a tenant, and if you wanted to rent a place, there’s no way you can afford one either," Ms Stocks said.

While housing falls under the control of the state and territories, the federal government has committed to investing more than $6 billion towards housing support and homelessness services over the coming year.

Around $4.6 billion will be spent on Commonwealth Rest Assistance, to assist eligible Australians to meet their rental costs.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Services told SBS News they could not comment on individual cases but "we sympathise with the difficult circumstances many Australians face during an unexpected battle with illness". 

"Where Newstart Allowance recipients have additional costs such as raising children and medical bills, supplementary payments are available including Family Tax Benefit and Pharmaceutical Allowance," they said. 

"All income support recipients receive a concession card that provides access to PBS medicines at a vastly reduced cost, bulk billing and reduced out-of-hospital medical expenses."

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Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at and .

5 min read
Published 10 October 2019 at 7:27am
By Nick Baker, Maani Truu