ACU Clemente student Suzanne Hunt-Tuzo is living a life of hope after homelessness.
ACU Clemente student Suzanne Hunt-Tuzo, 56, is one of 20 people who have told their personal stories as part of The Purple Rain – a collaborative social art installation about homelessness at ACU's Melbourne campus from May 14.
The Purple Rain by artist Konstantin Dimopoulos aims to provide an insight into the 'why' behind homelessness. Each story is an invitation to understand the various pathways that can lead to homelessness.
Sporting a bright pink backpack and an effervescent smile, Suzanne Hunt-Tuzo is soon to complete her arts degree at ACU. She is buzzing with creative drive and enthusiasm, but this hasn't always been the case. Suzanne's life has been impacted by multiple levels of disadvantage, which include depression, mental illness, grief, unemployment and homelessness.
The unrelenting stress of homelessness affects more than a million Australians. For people like Suzanne, finding enough money to live on, somewhere safe to live, food to eat, treatment for physical or mental illness (or both) and the support of friends, family and community is an ongoing struggle.
"As a wild teenager with a mental illness, I was misunderstood. My family relationships broke down and I lost my support system. I ended up living in hospitals, institutions and on the streets for nearly a decade," said Suzanne.
"I was two-years-old when my mother died, which set off a chain reaction of negative experiences in my life. I struggled to process the emotional trauma of the loss at such an early age, and got trapped in a downward spiral."
In 2007, Suzanne had reached a point where she was particularly bereft. After being discharged from hospital for a serious mental illness, she was forced into yet another boarding house with no money.
"I was broke and eating at a shelter with people who'd just been released from jail. I felt worthless and I could see no point to my life. I'd run out of hope," she said.
But the darkest hour was just before the dawn – and in 2008, while taking part in a psychosocial rehabilitation program, Suzanne was invited to study at university through ACU's Clemente program.
Clemente Australia provides access to higher education for people experiencing poverty, loss of opportunity, social isolation and marginalisation. In 11 years more than 800 Australians have publicly acknowledged the benefits of the course. Ongoing evaluation and research clearly indicate the positive impact upon people's lives.
"I found myself in a classroom with a bunch of people who'd experienced many layers of disadvantage. We each had a learning partner to support us in our studies. After we completed four subjects, one at a time over two years, we were given the opportunity to study a degree at ACU.
"Clemente has taught me to study. It's given me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, and it's turned my life around. It's the biggest promise of something better I've ever had. It's the opportunity I've longed for," said Suzanne.
Last year Suzanne travelled to Ireland as part of ACU's Study Abroad program, which was both challenging and life changing.
"I'm not homeless anymore. I've got my own unit close to campus, I swim every day and I study around four hours a day. I've nearly finished my arts degree majoring in sociology and English literature, and one day I hope to write books and publish poetry."
ACU Relations Coordinator at the Institute for Advancing Engagement (IACE) Mary Campbell plays a crucial role in providing support to Clemente students on campus.
"I've had a big helping hand here at ACU. Mary Campbell has been such a wonderful support to me. Just to know she's available in her office gives me comfort. Her positive energy is amazing. She's like 30 people packed into one. I couldn't have done this without Mary.
"Now I've got a future, and I'm revelling in it. My story is a gift of hope that I want to give to others who are still homeless," said Suzanne.
The Purple Rain is a collaborative initiative between ACU, world-renowned artist Konstantin Dimopoulos, City of Yarra, St Mary's House of Welcome and STREAT.
Konstantin Dimopoulos has created works in public places around the world. He continues to use arts activism to draw attention to global issues such as deforestation, migration and displacement.