For ten years Tracey Hookey slept rough on the streets of Sydney but said she found safety and comfort in prison.
Racism was never an issue for Tracey living on the streets, but the fear of being hurt by someone else during the night was cemented into the back of her mind.
“I think [prison] is my safety home, me not dying on the streets, it does help me when I go to jail," Tracey told NITV News.
Tracey hasn’t seen the inside of a prison cell for eight months now; with her longest time incarcerated being four and a half years for supplying prohibited drugs.
She has been in and out of prison since becoming homeless, for drug-related offences.
Tracey was born in Camperdown and grew up in Redfern surrounded by family and friends, where she was exposed to drugs and alcohol.
At the age of 12, Tracey said she was sexually abused and then turned to smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol.
“He would sneak into the room… every house we went to, me and my mum and my brothers, he would follow and none of them knew what was going on,” Tracey said.
Heroin found its way to Tracey found heroin when she was 18-years-old, sometimes even spending up to $500 a day to support her habit.
Just one year after discovering heroin, she lost her mum and found herself on the streets for the first time.
“[My first night on the street] Was terrible, I didn’t know no one, I didn’t know where to put my head, I didn’t know if anything would happen to me, if I would [even] wake up the next morning, if someone would find me dead,” she said.
A place to call home
Kellie Wright, an Aboriginal homelessness support worker, noticed Tracey on the street and offered to help her find a safe place to sleep in Sydney’s inner suburb of Redfern.
“I’m glad I’m off the streets now and in a house… it is a bit weird because you get to close doors and that and you know that you are safe.” She said.
“I hope it (life) gets better step by step, it takes time but.”
It is stories like Tracey’s that have sparked the need for a wider conversation to address what drives Indigenous women to homelessness.
Friday at Woolloomooloo saw the gathering of Indigenous women from legal services, homeless centres, mental health hubs, disability and health services and representatives from various government agencies to collectively discuss factors that lead to homelessness.
The First Nations Women's Alliance Talk Out Forum – supported by Domestic Violence NSW and Homelessness NSW - highlighted sexual abuse and extreme poverty to be a key factor in the alarming homeless rates.
The statistic showed Indigenous people that were homeless and trying to access homelessness services was 25 per cent, a number that far outweighed the Indigenous population of 3 per cent.
There are only three Aboriginal specialist services in Sydney to facilitate homeless people with about 28 per cent - according to City of Sydney Council - of Indigenous people sleeping rough in Sydney on an average night.
The forum allowed the women to workshop solutions that they could lobby to the federal government.
Some of the recommendations were a call for cultural safety - empowering Indigenous women to have a voice as individuals - and for poverty to be brought to mainstream attention and addressed.
Bronwyn Penrith, director of Burbangana Group, said on Friday that other pressing issues for Indigenous women were also in discussion.
“Homelessness is a huge issue here in the inner city… we are going to be discussing homelessness, sexual abuse, family violence,” she said.
“But mainly try to bring together a group of women to create one voice to make change.”