Posted by: peterhact | June 1, 2012

Homelessness – My experiences.

Homelessness usually conjures images of elderly men in packing crates, women wandering around with shopping trolleys full of stuff they have picked up. I didn’t live in a packing crate, I didn’t have a trolley of stuff.

My first foray into the world of being without a home was when my mother and father divorced. I was the 3rd wheel, and, as my mother had new directions in her life, I rebelled about a lot of stuff. Mainly new boyfriends staying over, from memory. It came to a head and she booted me out. I was 17. I had a car I could drive, and live out of if needed. I had some money saved, so I moved into a granny flat. I was engaged to the owner of the granny flat. she dumped me. I was out in the world. I was 18.

The couch surfing began. Many friends had spare couches, meals, addresses for me to use, and this continued till I met another girl, who invited me to live with her. when I lost my job, back out I was cast again. I was still 18, and I started living the “high life” – according to a politician at the time, it was easy to survive on the dole. It is, if you have a house address, or a sympathetic friend. I disappeared for about 2 years, truly on the street, finally surfacing in Ainslie village. I told my friends that I had got a job out of canberra. The street life consisted of eating leftover KFC, Maccas, pizza hut pizzas, pushing trolleys for cash in hand – even that wage was well below the poverty line, and sleeping wherever it was warm. I never got thrown in lockup, but I know of a few people who pushed the boundaries just for the chance at a soft bed and safety whilst they slept.

What about the refuges? well, there were many people like me in them, young, smooth faced boys who were seen as new meat by some of the more disgusting residents. If I could have grown a full beard in that time, I would have welcomed it for the anonymity, and the added warmth. We slept in the suburbs, in the charity bins, until the warnings came out that some bastard was chucking blood filled syringes in the bins. We slept in office blocks, in the stairwells. Like cockroaches that you disturb under a piece of tin in a backyard, huddled together. We knew which buildings had cameras and guards, and which public parks had bushes that you could make a nest in.

I was in this state for 2-years. I started drinking, and the minimal amount of money I earned went on the bottles of royal reserve port that we drank to keep warm. People who knew me at school didn’t see me, their eyes glazed over as they passed by. I saved a bit of money, bought a membership to the labor club and hustled for my drinks at the snooker tables, then returning to lake ginninderra to the nest I had made. I hustled people I knew, I bludged money for food, I had one instinct – survival.

One day, I was begging as usual in civic when a fella came up to me, grabbed me, put a knife to my throat and demanded my meagre possessions. A copper grabbed him out of nowhere. Then a nice lady from St Vincent De Paul helped me up. She suggested that I get the police to drop me off at Ainslie Village. She said she would meet me there. I was dropped off by the police, I rode in the back of a paddy wagon, and I absolutely stank. I did offer to clean the truck out for them, but they laughed it off, thanking me for my concern.

I was put into the old barracks accommodation at ainslie village, given a real bed, and the village received a part of my dole payment. It was for food and lodging. This enabled me to get a keycard, as I had a fixed address. Then I discovered the true nature of the place. There are two elements of Ainslie Village. There is the public face you see and the underbelly of disease, abuse, violence and depression. I soon discovered the underbelly.

I am not going to describe every thing I saw or had done to me. I will say that I was molested in the showers, drugged and abused in a resident’s room, beaten up for five dollars, had all of my sale-able possessions stolen,  came face to face with a knife wielding maniac, walked to civic and got beaten because my mate had a big mouth, and wouldn’t shut up.

Not long after I was in Ainslie village, I celebrated a new job, and my 21st. The village didn’t keep the rate you pay the same as when you are on the dole. They increased it, which effectively traps you there. Not enough to move out, alcoholic, and trapped. My new boss had a group house, and, in 1992, I moved out of the most painful, sordid and depressing chapters of my life. I vowed to never go back to that level, and every year I donate money to The CEO Sleepout – http://www.ceosleepout.org.au/ as it is a constant reminder of where I could have been forever. And in those conditions forever would have been about an extra 5-10 years. Onwards and upwards. I no longer drink to extremes, I have a job, I earn money and I now pay a mortgage, another thing I never thought I would have.

There is a new charity also making a difference – have a look at http://www.commongroundaustralia.org.au/index.php/state-by-state.html

Both these initatives need our support, as does every charity that supports and assists people out of home, financially unable to put food on the table, or victims of domestic violence.

 

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Responses

  1. Peter what a horrible experience and as a mother I just want to wrap you up in a cotton blanket and keep you safe. These experiences of life can make or break you – I just cannot fathom what you have gone through yet have been able to survive! I am grateful you have shared this because it helps to understand the seriousness if homelessness and it can happen to any person.


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