A single mother has opened up about her three-month nightmare living in a van after being priced out of her home amid Australia’s rental crisis.
Martelle Jackson, 28, refused to renew her lease on a property near Wollongong, south of Sydney, at the end of 2020 when her landlord initially raised the rent by $40 a week.
But she didn’t know that the country was struggling with a housing crisis, and she found it impossible to find a place to live.
“I thought I was only going to live in the van for a week or two and wasn’t planning on it long-term at all,” Martelle told FEMAIL, describing the experience as “terrible”.
She bathed in the cold sea in the middle of winter every morning and woke up at 05.00 to pee on the side of the road while no one was around.
Martelle Jackson (pictured) lived in a van for three months after struggling to secure a new rental home
The now 28-year-old described the homelessness experience as ‘terrible’ as she bathed in the freezing cold sea every morning and woke up at her daughter)
“After being turned down for quite a few houses I called my estate and asked if I could stay until I found a place as I was afraid of ending up homeless and my daughter was going to live with her dad, Martelle said.
“She (the estate agent) said “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I’ll give you an extra week and that’s it”. After I left, they raised the rent by almost $100 a week.’
She then began offering an extra $10 to $20 a week on applications and paying rent in advance to get ahead of other applicants.
Martelle, originally from England, had no family to lean on, so her four-year-old daughter lived in her ex-partner’s house.
Inside the van, which she bought spontaneously in 2019, Martelle had a bed, fridge, sink and a fan – but no shower, Wi-Fi or toilet.
She parked her car at various park areas and beaches, but often feared for her safety.
“I had to drive to another area a few times at night because I felt uncomfortable or unsafe,” she said.
‘It was terrible and I had mechanical problems with the van – the window would leak and I had a bad flu in the winter.
‘My daughter was my saving grace because I pushed through it all to get a tenancy and be home with her again. I still saw her every day but it wasn’t the same, I missed the little things.’
Originally from England, she had no family to support during the difficult time, and therefore her four-year-old daughter lived with her ex-partner.
How to negotiate for cheaper rent
1. Do your research on rental prices in the area
2. Check your rental agreement
3. Be prepared with exactly what you want to ask for
4. Put your request in writing and state how much you are willing to pay
Martelle said she would often feel like a ‘burden’ to others and questioned how she got into the situation in the first place.
At the time she was not working and studying music at TAFE.
She would inspect three or four rental properties a day, but was turned away 48 times because she was a single mother without a job.
“The inspections were always packed with up to 50 people and estate agents wouldn’t give me a chance – no one would consider me family,” she said.
‘I felt really defeated at the end but knew I had to keep going.’
In her spare time she learned to play guitar and practiced piano, all in the van.
Inside the van, which she bought spontaneously in 2019, Martelle had a bed, fridge, sink and a fan, but no shower, Wi-Fi or toilet
Martelle had support from Centrelink and charities including Orange Sky and Hope Street Youth & Family Services.
She felt comforted after being offered small but significant gestures that made a world of difference, including hot showers, breakfast and washing machines.
After the 49th application, Martelle was finally admitted to a beautiful rental property with a fantastic view of the lake.
“I got all my furniture out of storage and really got my mojo back,” she said.
Martelle believes that ‘everything happens for a reason’ – and is now the owner of The Shave Cave barbershop in Port Kembla, NSW.
After the 49th application, Martelle was finally admitted to a beautiful rental property with a fantastic view of the lake
“I set up the whole store myself, spray painted it, decorated it, and now we’re approaching our one-year anniversary,” she said.
‘I’ve really turned my life around and now my next big goal is to save up for a house.’
Martelle said she ‘grew up a lot’ during the three months on the streets and was ‘surprised by her own strength’.
“Luckily I didn’t have any mental problems, which really shocked me, but I think I did what I had to do,” she said.
Martelle is now the owner of The Shave Cave hair salon in Port Kembla
‘I trusted the process and believe that everything happens for a reason – I wouldn’t have opened my store if I didn’t go through this.’
Today, Martelle’s shop coordinates with Youth & Family Services to provide coupons to the homeless for free haircuts and blow dryers.
“It’s the little things that make the biggest difference when you’re going through something like this,” she said.
Visit Services Australia to check if you are eligible for rental assistance here.
If your current situation is causing stress or affecting your mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 24/7 on 1300 224 636.
How much has the rent increased in the past year?
SYDNEY: Up 17.1 percent to $766.70 per week
MELBOURNE: Up 6.5 percent to $547.10 a week
BRISBANE: Up 19.5 percent to $570.80 per week
PERTH: Up 13.7 percent to $575.70 per week
ADELAIDE: Up 15.6 percent to $494.40 per week
CANBERRA: Up 16.4 percent to $768.30 per week
DARWIN: Up 4.7 percent to $611.10 per week
HOBART: Up 4.5 percent to $511 per week
Source: SQM Research median weekly rent data showing annual increases in the year to 12 March 2022