Zahra Haryadi never thought she could end up homeless.
But that is exactly what happened in her final year of school.
Ms Haryadi was 17 and Newcastle High School captain when “a family breakdown” forced her out of home.
“It was during a really crucial moment in my life,” she said. “I was doing my HSC … It was very frustrating and very stressful and the way I actually got through that and managed to get a good enough ATAR to get to uni was through the generosity and kindness of people.
“I was couch-surfing, looking for places to stay, with anyone really, for a couple of months.”
Now, five years on, the Hamilton South marketing professional wants to help others in a similar or worse position.
She has been the driving force behind the Cardiff Hawks AFL Club’s month-long charity campaign to gather donations for Hunter Homeless Connect Day on August 9.
Hunter Homeless Connect Day will be at Broadmeadow PCYC and provides a range of vital services to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
“You don’t need to do something extravagant or massive to make a difference,” Ms Haryadi said.
“A lot of people don’t realise how the simple act of donating an item of clothing, or basic hygiene products can help.
“It was support services and mainly the kindness of strangers that helped me through a difficult time in my life, and I want to make sure others can benefit from the same help that I did.”
In NSW in excess of 28,000 people are homeless, which is more than any other state in Australia. In the Hunter up to 400 people, some as young as 12, are homeless or sleeping rough each night.
“I want people to know that the homeless and the people that are sleeping rough are not just a statistic; they’re not just something that you see on the news,” Ms Haryadi said.
“You walk down the street and you will see them. They’re real people and they are daughters and sons and they look rough … but 95 per cent of the time it’s not their fault that they are on the street.”
Ms Haryadi said “living out of plastic bags” was an eye-opener to how people can be affected by homelessness.
“I didn’t have a bad upbringing or anything like that, it was just simply a family breakdown,” Ms Haryadi said.
While she was studying a Bachelor of Communication at the University of Newcastle she did work placement with Compass Housing, a community housing organisation.
It was through them she learned about Hunter Homeless Connect Day.
“I was thinking about how to make a big impact for that event and how I could really help as much as I could,” she said.
“That’s when I approached Quinton Davis, who is the Hawks club president, and we came up with the idea of a month of collecting donations.
“We’ve only asked the club at the moment but we can certainly see this becoming a yearly thing and getting bigger.”
Ms Haryadi’s partner Nick Chapman plays for the Hawks and the club were keen to help out when they heard her idea.
“The Cardiff Hawks Club has grown almost two-fold this year due to our inaugural women’s team,” Mr Davis said.
“With the increase in our numbers we really thought we could rustle up donations that would make a real difference for people attending Hunter Homeless Connect Day.
“We hope to set an example for the rest of the community. You don’t need to do something big, or spectacular to give back to those who need it.”
With barely a week into their month of collecting donations, the club has already collected over 15 bags.
Blankets are a top priority but there are plenty of other things that can help too.
“Clothing to wear to work would be really beneficial considering some of the services that will be held on the day are preparing for a job interview, learning how to write a resume, even just approaching people for work,” Ms Haryadi said.
Donations for Hunter Homeless Connect Day can be made to Hawks training on Thursdays this month at Hillsborough Oval between 6pm and 8pm.
Meanwhile, anti-domestic violence campaigner and Novocastrian Kirrily Dear will be at No.1 Sportsground this Saturday as part of Cardiff Hawks Ladies Day.
In 2014, Ms Dear ran 860 kilometres from Walgett to Forbes to start community conversations and to raise awareness of domestic violence.
Next year she is planning to run from Broken Hill to Sydney to give a voice to young people who have grown up with family violence.