HOLDING down two stable jobs and always paying the rent on time, Ararat couple Mr and Mrs Smith* never thought they would be confronted with homelessness.
However, the dark side of regional Victoria's property boom means the pair and their children could be left with nowhere to go in just three weeks.
Speaking to the Ararat Advertiser on the condition of anonymity due to their employment and school-aged children in town, the couple are at their wits' end with trying to find a property after notice to vacate was served at their current home.
The home they live in must under-go work to be habitable. Not sealed and living in damp conditions, the family has resorted to sleeping in the lounge with sleeping bags, recently brought in case couch surfing became a reality, in front of three heaters just to keep warm overnight.
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In a sad reality that many might not understand - this couple both work in essential employment and have offered up to $600 a week for somewhere to live.
But their offers have fallen on deaf ears, with landlords inundated with enquiries for even the most basic of accommodation.
Last week, they arrived at a property viewing where 16 families were booked to look at the same house.
They aren't fussy
Living in a property which needs to be restumped, a new kitchen and bathroom, new windows - let's not mention the back of the house has fallen off, their current residence is far from luxurious.
"We're living in a damp mouldy house," Mrs Smith said.
"We've even resorted to using sleeping bags in the lounge room just to keep warm."
On top of the rental costs, Mr Smith said their gas bill had reached $5000 for the year because of constantly running the heaters.
"We've got three heaters going at the moment just in the lounge room," he said.
"We've got the sticky tape around the window frames and space invader in the walls trying to block the wind coming in the walls.
"We wake up in the morning and our doonas are wet from condensation because we're so hot but the house is so cold. Ideally, we need at least three bedrooms as my other children come and stay with us outside of lockdown.
"But at the moment, we would just be happy with anything to get us through."
They've been through it before
Mr and Mrs Smith have lived in Ararat for four years and in their current home for 12 months.
Both working, as essential workers, the family have utilised government housing assistance in the past.
12 months ago, the family were in a place where they wanted to ensure a long term future in Ararat and decided to lease a property themselves so they had the security of staying longer.
"I've spoken to housing assistance groups as well. Their waiting list is huge," Mrs Smith said.
"Because I'm not an Australian citizen I can't get any housing anymore - the rules have changed in the past 12 months.
"I was told people were sleeping in their cars and families were sharing houses because there are so many people in need."
Four years ago, under a housing scheme in another region, the family was offered housing in Ararat and uprooted their family to the region.
"At that time we didn't even know where Ararat was," Mrs Smith said.
"Now we feel like we could be back in the same position again."
Moving away isn't an option
Mrs Smith said people have asked her why they just don't pick up and move somewhere where there is more accommodation.
"It's really defeating the purpose then isn't it?" Mrs Smith said.
"We have jobs here and if were to move, we would have to find jobs again - but until then how would we be able to afford to live somewhere."
Mr and Mrs Smith have children in school and believe they have integrated into the Ararat community well and would like to stay.
"Our kids know so many people in this town - when we go up the street people are always saying hello," Mrs Smith said.
"I want that for my children. To be part of a community where they feel welcomed, comfortable and safe.
"We love everything about Ararat and want to continue to live here and be part of the community."
The frustrating parts
Mrs Smith said she had heard people from Melbourne were buying houses in the region, or renting but not living in them permanently.
"I don't know if it's true but it is frustrating to just hear those things," she said.
"If these houses are holiday houses or just for use during lockdown I don't think people should be allowed to do that.
"Don't they understand that because of this families are going to be left homeless and sleeping in cars?
"I understand people wanting holiday houses, I really do. But at this time and what we're going through life is tough enough as it is without the extra stress of not being able to find a house."
Mrs Smith said she also knew of a single male who couldn't find a house in the region as well.
"He told me houses were given to families over him as a priority," she said.
"But people don't know of his circumstances - he might, for whatever reason need another bedroom.
"It's just frustrating, time and time again. You just get deflated after so many knockbacks.
"It's just devastating. Yes, we've ended up on hard times in the past, however now we are in a position we can afford rent, we've got good rental history and we thought everything would be ok."
Running out of ideas
The couple is now looking at their options to purchase a house in the region - but realise time is now against them.
"We've realised that you either have to be rich, or really rich if you want to live somewhere here," she said.
"We offered $400 a week for rental a property the other week which wasn't worth much over $200 and were outbid by someone who offered $460.
"These are houses with no baths or built-in wardrobes. Nothing flash and probably wouldn't be big enough for our family but they would do.
"How are people meant to compete with that."
Mr Smith said the couple had no intentions of moving.
"We're both happy with our work and the opportunities for us in the region," he said.
"We have had a look around for jobs elsewhere because we're running out of options but there isn't anything around for us and again, time is really against us.
"We don't know what position we're going to be in, in three weeks but we just hope we can find somewhere to live or someone to help us out."
No clear way forward
Two hours after talking to the Ararat Advertiser, Mr and Mrs Smith were notified of another unsuccessful application for a house.
"How do you talk to your children about a situation like this and explain what's going on," she said.
"No one can answer me, but I keep asking what's wrong with our applications and why aren't we getting looked in.
"As quickly as I can put an application in, I'm getting a rejection from another.
"There are people that are worse off than us - I know that. I just don't know what we can do anymore."
On realestateview.com.au there are currently two houses listed for rent in Ararat.
If you, or anyone you know, can offer Mr and Mrs Smith some assistance please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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