It was one of my biggest fears that I would end up like mum. That I would end up in a horrible, vile, box of a home with nothing.Irene Mee
Eight years ago, rent at Irene Mee's Golden Square home was rising year-on-year and making ends meet was becoming near impossible.
"I sold all of my jewellery.
"I needed food for the children.
"I'm not the sort of person that would go begging and that was one of the only assets I had, so I sold it," Ms Mee said.
Six rings and some bracelets netted the mother of five $240 at a pawn shop.
"I saw one ring in the window a couple of weeks later with a $2500 price tag on it.
"I stood there and cried," Ms Mee said.
Generous and understanding landlords proved Ms Mee's saviour, but their kindness would stretch only so far.
In the midst of looking for a more affordable place to live, she came across Haven; Home, Safe.
"It was difficult to reach out for help.
"There was an awful lot of paperwork, but Haven need to see that the people they give homes to are deserving," Ms Mee said.
A unit in White Hills was deemed suitable for Ms Mee and her daughter Cassie and they have called the residence home for eight years.
"I was overwhelmed when I saw this house. It's just marvellous," Ms Mee said.
Born in Launceston, the 69-year-old left the Apple Isle for the mainland when she was 17 years old.
"I was the oldest of four girls and could work so I left with mum.
"It was a dreadful reason to take a girl from her home," Ms Mee said.
From a blue collar upbringing, Ms Mee lived in Colac and Newcastle before settling in Bendigo 15 years ago.
She lived in fear that one day, she would follow in her mother's footsteps as an elderly woman living precariously.
"It was one of my biggest fears that I would end up like mum.
"That I would end up in a horrible, vile, box of a home with nothing.
"She had nothing and worked all her life," Ms Mee said.
Thankfully, Haven; Home, Safe came to her rescue, but Ms Mee fears for the scores of people who are at risk of homelessness due to spiraling expenses.
"There are so many desperate people out there.
"It's the mum's with kids. If the children can't go into a decent home and feel proud about themselves, the cycle continues," Ms Mee said.
"I've broken the cycle," she said.
A living situation that offers some certainty has meant Ms Mee has been able to help others.
The 69-year-old has seen plenty of people come and go from the nearby residence's, but has developed a bond with one resident in particular.
Ms Mee cooks meals and acts as an advocate for Michael, a young man with health issues.
She is modest when describing how she helps her neighbours, something her daughter Cassie, who is visiting for Christmas, was quick to correct.
"Mum was a voice for Michael when he didn't have one and has been kinder to him than most people have ever been," she said.
An avid gardener, Ms Mee won recognition for her green thumbs by taking out the 2017-18 Victorian in Bloom award for the best small enclosed or container garden.
Victoria in Bloom recognises and rewards the work of gardening enthusiasts living in public or community housing.
"The garden is a lovely thing for when I'm not here.
"It will be great for someone else to come and enjoy," Ms Mee said.
Gardens at the front and back of her property keep Ms Mee busy and are a reminder of her upbringing.
"Dad was a gardener and in my generation, you grew your own fruit and veg and even killed your own chooks," Ms Mee recalls.
"My children all remember picking fruit and veg in the garden," she said.
A sprawling backyard fruit and vegetable space is full of delight.
The fruit and veg haven features plums, strawberries, herbs, tomatoes, lemons, limes and much more.
Harnessing every corner of the surrounds, the space is once again nominated to receive an award from Victoria in Bloom.
Haven; Home, Safe's assessment and planning services helped more than 8000 people at risk of or experiencing homelessness in Victoria this year.
Nearly three quarters of vulnerable people were successfully housed in short term and long term accommodation, according to a Haven; Home, Safe spokesperson.
Homelessness and insecure housing predicaments are rising, particularly for females aged 55 plus.
Of the nearly 300,000 clients assisted by Specialist Homelessness Services in 2018-19, 60 per cent were female, statistics published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal.
4.6 per cent of these were women aged 55 or older.
Older Australians are seeking help in record numbers, with the over-55s category showing the biggest increase in the use of government-funded services.
Ms Mee was one of the lucky ones, breaking the cycle that could have seen her life descend into one filled with uncertainty.
With her five children scattered across Australia, she spent Christmas in Bendigo with two of her children.
Ms Mee will soon embark on a trip to Darwin with Cassie and make the 2500 kilometre trek to Townsville, where Cassie, a member of the Australian Army, is posted.
"I have fabulous children," Ms Mee said.
Christmas was a modest affair for Ms Mee in White Hills, but that's home, and she wouldn't want it any other way.