Homeless people sit on the pavement in Westminster, London, Monday, April 27, 2020. Picture: Frank Augstein/AP
Homeless people sit on the pavement in Westminster, London, Monday, April 27, 2020. Picture: Frank Augstein/AP

Stranded Aussie family faces homelessness overseas

An Aussie family of five have run out of money while being stuck overseas amid coronavirus travel restrictions, and could soon be homeless in a foreign city.

Gold Coast father Ben* told news.com.au his family had moved to England at the very end of 2019, for a "family gap year", a dream which had been over a decade in the making.

He had planned to support his family by working while in England, but lost his job because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unable to afford a plane ticket back to the Gold Coast for all five of them, they opted to stay put.

Now, seven weeks into unemployment, their bank account is empty.

 

A man wearing a face mask runs through the rain past a homeless man on Oxford Street on May 1, 2020 in London, England. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
A man wearing a face mask runs through the rain past a homeless man on Oxford Street on May 1, 2020 in London, England. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

What was meant to be the holiday of a lifetime soon turned into the stuff of nightmares for the father of three.

"Within hours of countries closing their borders, the entire business unit that I had been working for back home was stood down," Ben told news.com.au.

He had arranged to keep his job at an Australian company, but would work remotely in Europe with his wife and three kids for 13 months, allowing them to travel more easily around the continent in his free time.

"With the expectation of regular work behind us, we were able to embark on the journey with a mere fraction of the usual king's ransom that would need to be saved in order to contemplate such a trip," Ben explained.

But that all went down the drain when he lost his job. And he soon faced going broke.

"As a contractor, there were no entitlements I could expect to receive, and as an Australian citizen outside of the country was neither eligible for JobKeeper nor JobSeeker assistance," he said.

They considered returning home but were floored by the cost of a plane ticket.

"A one-way seat to get home would cost us a whopping five grand - each!" he said.

"I challenge anyone to put their hand on $25,000 in the middle of a holiday, let alone during the normal course of life."

 

Instead, they holed up in a cottage in the English countryside to weather out the COVID-19 storm.

To save money during the long period of unemployment, he returned the family's hire car.

 

"While this was certainly a fiscally responsible move it means that I now have to cycle a 15km round trip on a borrowed bicycle to fill my backpack with whatever I can carry in order to feed my family from day to day, rain hail or shine," he said, adding: "And I think we all know what type of weather England is famous for."

Although Ben and his wife of 18 years have been applying for every job that comes up, they've had no luck so far.

"Our cash quite literally ran out this morning," he said.

Ben hopes that he'll be able to access his super early for some emergency funds, otherwise he could find himself and the rest of his family living rough on the streets of England.

"We are, for all intents and purposes, homeless," he said.

Homeless people sit on the pavement in Westminster, London, Monday, April 27, 2020. Picture: Frank Augstein/AP
Homeless people sit on the pavement in Westminster, London, Monday, April 27, 2020. Picture: Frank Augstein/AP

They're not alone. All over the world, Aussies are stranded and are struggling to pay for the essentials.

A DREAM YEARS IN THE MAKING

Ben and his wife have wanted to try the "expat thing" for decades, but they never imagined it would work out like this.

"Trip of a lifetime? Absolutely," he said. "Whirlwind holiday? Anything but."

Between sighs, the fatigued father carried on.

"We began planning a 13 month trip around the UK and Europe and pulled up stumps, putting everything we had left into storage for what we called our 'family gap year'," he said.

"Discontent to spend a solid portion of our life savings dragging three whingeing children from one hours-long queue to the next during an intensive several week long travel binge, we had decided long ago that a far more sensible approach would be to spend a year, maybe more."

When Ben says he had been planning the trip "long ago", he means it; his family were originally meant to move overseas 12 years ago, in 2008. But then the global financial crisis hit.

A coronavirus-themed poster by mural artist and illustrator KMG in Camden, London, Sunday May 10, 2020. Picture: Yui Mok/AP
A coronavirus-themed poster by mural artist and illustrator KMG in Camden, London, Sunday May 10, 2020. Picture: Yui Mok/AP

"This lofty vision (of being expats) seemed to slip out of our grasp when the GFC hit very hard," he said. "In the years that followed the 2009 collapse of virtually every industry on the Gold Coast, we lost everything.

"Unable to achieve any form of holiday since early 2010, the idea of our expat adventure also seemed out of reach."

He and his wife changed their line of work to fund their trip of a lifetime.

"Both my wife and I had spent eight years re-skilling and/or upskilling, gaining four postgraduate qualifications between us," Ben said.

"After a slow and painful recovery from prolonged periods of post-GFC unemployment, things were beginning to look up."

However, a global catastrophe once again got in the way of his travel plans.

"I found myself in an eerily familiar place: completely alone and unsupported," he said.

"So, for the foreseeable future we remain in lockdown awaiting some sign of hope that the last decade has not been in vain."

Continue the conversation | alex.turner-cohen@news.com.au | @AlexTurnerCohen

Originally published as Stranded Aussie family faces homelessness



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