This is the story of Regina, who spent her childhood in a cycle of violence and homelessness. She has opened her heart up to us to share her story, the aftermath that occurred, her journey to Downtown Community Ministry (DCM), and how a dark past won’t be determining her bright future.
When I was seven, my youngest sister and I were told we were going on a holiday. We got pretty happy about the idea and soon a car arrived to pick us up. Except once we got in, I looked out the window to see my father standing in the middle of the street crying. I still remember holding my little sister, saying that I’d look after her. That was the day CYFS (Child Youth and Family Services) took us away from our family and into foster care.
The reality was that my siblings and I were being raised in a violent home. I can’t recall all of the violence that occurred, but am aware of some incidents. On top of that there was all sorts of different people coming in and out of our doors and heaps of drinking involved. One of our neighbours eventually made a phone call to the authorities because she was afraid for our safety.
I understand now why my parents were like that. They had very violent upbringings and came from abusive homes – my father’s being particularly awful. Since my mother was a young woman, she had a series of violent relationships, with one partner being a member of a motorcycle gang where domestic violence was the norm. That was the thing. Everyone thought this was normal behaviour.
This marked the beginning of our journey into the ‘system’. We were put into some foster homes that weren’t good to the kids, and some of our caregivers were quite abusive. We got moved around a lot. There was one good home we had though, Helen and Michael – we loved being with them. But when I was 11, they decided to move back to Scotland. My mother was contacted and the decision was made for us to go back to her.
Mum had really tried to get back on her feet. She had left Dad and was living in Kilbirnie, Wellington. But I felt so upset with her y’know, there was this incredible sense of betrayal … as if she had abandoned us when we were young. She tried, but there was other stuff going on – she was in yet another, violent relationship. My sister and I witnessed all of the assaults this man made against her. And the amount of parties that went on, the amount of strangers coming-and-going was full on. I ended up becoming absolutely rebellious. I just wasn’t going to have a bar of anything.
I started to commit all sorts of crimes, I'd run away and ended up between Youth Facilities, ‘Corrective Training’ and went on to spend some time in prison.
Then when I was just 13 years old, I was raped. It was a pinnacle moment that was incredibly traumatising and I had no support system. The worse thing I felt was the sense of shame, so I kept it to myself. The rage and anger that came after that was just absolute and unbearable.
I lived in a basement for a period of time and slept on couches - homelessness has many faces. But for me it seemed safer on the streets so a friend and I ended up hitting inner city Wellington. We spent a lot of time sleeping on toilet floors and in random buildings.
No one ever chooses or just wakes up and decides, “I want to be homeless.” There’s this perception out there that people choose to be on the streets. Something can happen to a person, a traumatic moment and their life will spiral out of control.
By 28 drinking was a big part of coping with what had gone on in my past. My alcohol issues would come back to haunt me at this age. After a bad period I managed to make some major changes to my habits thanks to the support of my church family.
I ended up completing a rehab programme and I’m so happy I did. I was able to do it because I was ready, mentally and emotionally. I now know my triggers, and graduation was fantastic. Now I am completely sober.
Now I work for DCM. They knew about my past, but believed in my future, and took me on. My role at DCM involves distributing food from the foodbank, going to Work and Income once a week to represent those who use our services, and social frontline work – which means assisting anyone that comes through the DCM, getting them the best help possible.
Positive outcomes for DCM are when we have a group of people engaging who never had before. Recently all drop in centres were shut down, so DCM stood up and took on that role. We call this kind of space ‘Te Hapai’. Hapai means to ‘uplift’ and reflects the work we do in supporting our people to uplift their mana. We run literacy courses and have Te Reo sessions twice a week. My colleague Alan runs ukulele and music sessions which is so therapeutic for colleagues and musicians! It’s awesome to see people coming, especially more regularly.
The system failed my sister and I. I don’t blame it, there is always room for improvement. We can either get stuck being a victim or be victorious. I hold no animosity towards my parents, I love them and forgive them – they knew no better.
I had to learn how to forgive my attackers, and more importantly I had to forgive myself. Wellington Rape Crisis helped me a lot; they gave me the tools to unpack what happened.
I’m 42 now, I have six beautiful children and three gorgeous mokopuna. Recently I graduated with a National Certificate of Mental Health and Addiction Studies. I’m extremely proud of getting my education, and plan on getting my degree!
The road has been a long and hard one, but I wouldn’t ask for another life. Everything I have seen, everything I have been through, has made me who I am today. And I love who I am.
We can walk past homeless people and turn the other way, or we can support causes like DCM and help get people back on their feet. Collectively all of our giving comes together to make an incredibly positive impact on the lives of the people supported through DCM. Learn more about what they do and help them out with your 1% at the button below.