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From homelessness to helping others


Lived experience frames a stark reminder of the past, but
for Feros Care Local Area Coordinator (LAC) Jess Williams, it sparks the
passion driving her present.

Securing her dream of landing the role with Feros Care North
in November and loving being able to assist National Disability
Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
participants to plan and reach their goals, Jess was
nearing the place she wanted to be.

However, when the opportunity to sign up and drive a project
designed to assist the public and government housing system and community
through a Housing and Homelessness project, Jess jumped at the chance, for it
wasn’t all too long ago she found herself in the position of being homeless.

“I approached to say I was really interested in the project
through my lived experience,” Jess said.

“It’s something that’s really dear to my heart, and I want
to be there for people because I understand. This project is about reaching out
to people who may not understand the system or the NDIS to provide supports and

“There’s families out there homeless and they don’t have
housing or disabled support, so the intent is to help people gain supports and
access to what they need. I had support, and I’m one of the lucky ones, but a
lot of homeless people don’t have that, so I want to be that voice and support
for them.”

From Christmas lunch at the Salvation Army to now enjoying
career and security for her and her children reflects a steely will and
determination that helped drive Jess out of a “hole” she couldn’t believe she
was in, when her world came crashing down suddenly in 2011 after years of

Emigrating to Australia from Watford, England as a
14-year-old, Jess lived the good life in her adopted hometown, attending
private school and enjoying a solid home life.

Finding her way in the world post schooling through a range
of jobs, it was through a promotion’s role in the city as a 19-year-old when
Jess met her future husband, paving a path towards her future.

“We got married a year later and had our first daughter, Allera,”
Jess said.

“Things were good and 26 months later, we had our second
daughter, Khyanna.

“Then our marriage broke down a year or so after she was


After Jess’ circumstances changed, she spent the next six
weeks couch surfing with her kids while applying for rentals. Without any money
and her parents losing their business while her father also battled cancer,
times were challenging.

Jess had to quit her job while accessing the Salvation Army;
living off fuel cards, food vouchers, provided phone credit and food packages
to stay afloat.

“Not knowing where the next meal was coming from is really
challenging… especially when relying on others and when you have kids, you
don’t want to be a burden,” Jess said.

“I felt like a burden and my mental health was really bad… I
would have been completely homeless if I didn’t have friends and I would have
had to leave my kids with someone.

“Thankfully, it never got to that, but that affected me so
much and that never goes away.”

Losing hope and motivation while trying to find ways to help
young children to understand the situation. it was a phone call which proved
the catalyst for altering Jess’ future path.

Receiving that call to advise she’d received housing
instantly turned things around, but traumatised and knowing many others are not
as lucky, Jess wanted to help those going through the same thing.

After completing a Certificate Three in Aged Care, Jess
started a diploma to become an Enrolled Nurse before transitioning into mental
health work. Looking for a further challenge, Jess worked for an agency in Aged
Care facilities, before becoming a community disability support worker.


 After meeting her now
partner, Jess took time off after having son, Logan, before a diagnosis for Allera
was the final factor in Jess’ journey to Feros Care.

“Allera, now 13, was diagnosed as Level 2 Autistic and that
really turned my life around further,” Jess said.

“I’d had family with disability and an empathetic nature,
so, I started working in disability support.

“I then worked as a mentor support leader and when this role
with Feros Care came up, I got it and I was shocked, but I was really happy.”

With her passion to help people, Jess has thrived as an LAC
through assisting participants to access community and mainstream supports, and
services they couldn’t previously.

Parenting a child with Autism has provided Jess with added
knowledge and empathy, and a great satisfaction in helping people reach their

“I’ve got a passion to help, and I get satisfaction out of
knowing I’ve done a good job,” Jess said. 

“There’s challenges but knowing you can help people to build
capacity and independence while reducing risks of burnout for formal supports
is really satisfying.”

With an estimated 42% of national housing dwellings
containing a person with a disability, and the homelessness rate in South
Australia over 6,200 people on any given night, the Housing and Homelessness
project is doing great things.

Through interactive workshops and coming up with ways to
connect in the current climate, the Information, Linkages and Capacity (ILC) project
has assisted housing and homeless providers to be better supported, so they can
in-turn provide better support for their tenants and clients.

For those already on the street, a family connection led her
son’s grandmother to knitting 55 beanies, which were donated to homeless
support, the Adelaide Day Centre.

While having big plans for becoming an advocate for
disability in the future, Jess said there’d be no slowing down for the project.

“I don’t understand living under a bridge, but I do
understand what it’s like to go from having a house and car to having nothing,
and the only friendly face you may see is someone serving you a meal in a
shelter,” she said.

“But a lot of people don’t have that option and there’s
mental health issues, drugs and alcohol, and homelessness has no gender
discrimination… there’s women and children who need support, and there’s also
disability, so I want to help with that inclusion while offering a friendly

“And for those working in the housing and homelessness
sectors, knowing what supports are available can help people to get into homes
or maintain them. So, through the project, I want to be that voice for them and
show how the NDIS can help.”

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