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Life Stories

Homelessness can and does happen to anyone

Do you ever wonder how different your life might be if you'd been born in a different place or time or into a different family or community?

Do you ever wonder why you might have been blessed with good fortune while others face enormous challenges in their lives?

You're invited into the history and lives of some of the men and women who come to Hutt St for support. 

Deb – You realise your life is in danger

“There comes a point where you realise your life is in danger” she says, explaining the urgency of her move.

Deb's life experiences

Despite a traumatic past of domestic violence and fear, Deb has now reached a place of peace.

Deb* first moved to Adelaide after leaving an abusive relationship.

Deb discovered Hutt St Centre shortly after arriving in Adelaide. Her first visits were purely about being somewhere she felt safe.

“I would just come to the Wellbeing Centre to catch up on sleep. I’d sit in front of the TV and sleep until Phill (a staff member) would wake me up when it was time to go. It’s a terrible thing to be chasing sleep.” Deb explains the relief she felt at a time when she was only just coping.

“You get past the point of fatigue” she says, explaining that she was fighting so hard mentally, she noticed her physical health was taking a hit to enable her mental fight to stay strong.

Deb’s fight was far from won in 2013 when she came back to Hutt St Centre, desperate to escape what had become another abusive relationship. Deb says it’s her compassion for others and instinct to nurture that has been the reason she finds herself in these situations.

Towards the end of this relationship Deb was in a really bad rut. She was sleeping rough and her mental strength was weakening. She lost a lot of weight due to the time spent walking laps around the city just to keep herself busy and her mind occupied. On weekends she would stay out at pubs and clubs until she was kicked out for falling asleep in the corner because she had nowhere to go. Then she would find her way over to the Botanic Gardens where she often slept during this time.

Deb recalls feeling trapped in her relationship because of her financial restraints, but a determination to seek a better life shone through and she made a plan. When her advanced loan from Centrelink was approved she left her partner and came to Hutt St Centre where a Social Worker was able to organise emergency accommodation and make sure she was safe.

“My ultimate goal was to gain private rental”, she says. With the support of a Social Worker, Deb was able to realise this dream. “Hutt St Centre gave me that sense of striving for the next day”, she explains.

Reflecting on the difference that Hutt St Centre has made, Deb says “It’s is a place that provides empowerment for disadvantaged people, and does it without prejudice. It’s non-judgemental to the point where if someone who goes in there with such a low self-esteem, they will come out feeling like they can do anything they want to do in life. They are continually trying to plant that seed that says ‘never give up’.

Since setting up her home, Deb has engaged with education and training programs through Hutt St Centre and is now studying a Certificate IV in Legal Studies, with a big dream of getting into Parliament one day. “I’m toying with the idea of getting into politics. I want to go to Canberra. I’ve been reading up on female politicians in Australia and they all have law degrees, so I’m studying law!” she says with a big smile. Deb meets with a Hutt St Centre volunteer tutor every week who helps her keep on track with her study.

Thinking about her personal goals for the future, Deb jokes, “I never want to have a relationship again, except with dogs and cats and birds!” Only those she can nurture without the fear of getting hurt.

“Everything is falling into place now. The start of the year has been really great because it’s been really peaceful” Deb says. “Overall I am over the moon, rain or shine I am happy, and I won’t let anyone take that away from me anymore. They don’t have the right to do so.”

We are so happy Deb has found peace and been able to make a better life for herself.  Deb is so grateful to the community for the ongoing support that has allowed her to turn her life around. She has a real fondness for Hutt St Centre and everyone who makes it up. With a wide smile she says, “Have you felt how much character that place has?”

*Names have been changed out of respect for the person who has generously shared their experiences with homelessness with us. Deb shared her story in 2017.

Anthony – I was sleeping under the grandstand at Victoria Park

When I first found myself on the street I was in state of disbelief. I walked aimlessley in a half-conscious state. I had lost any sense of who I was, thinking, “what’s the point of life?”. That was when I stopped eating as a form of self-punishement for the shame I felt.

 

Anthony shares his experience with homelessness

Anthony* grew up in the Northern Territory in a supportive family home. He studied economics, married young, then went into well-paying jobs before moving to Western Australia to run a bank and post office in a rural community. 

I have a history of bad anxiety and depression. I battled with a loud voice in my head that relentlesslty drummed, “you’re not good enough”. I was stuck in a vicious cycle where my stress built up and self-doubts kicked in, so to deal with it I ran - I moved interstate and started over. I did this again and again until my marriage broke down and I lost contact with a lot of people.

I wandered the streets for months before I realised I needed to take my life back into my own hands. I remember one day when I was in a really bad headspace, I noticed I had wandered onto the street of my grandmother’s old home. As I walked towards her place I was flooded with happy memories and I suddenly felt a sense of hope, something I had thought was long gone. This was the turning point for me. I stood there and picked fruit from an overhanging tree, and ate for the first time in weeks.

At this point in time I was sleeping underneath the grandstands at Victoria Park Racecourse. I felt like I could hide away there during the night. Each morning I would pack my things up and walk down to Hutt St Centre for breakfast and a shower. When I discovered Hutt St Centre, everything started to fall into place. The staff made it all feel easy, at a point in my life where everything felt impossible. I immediately started a mental health plan and saw a Social Worker to discuss my housing and employment goals. I don’t know what I would have done without this support. 

Homelessness can happen to anyone. Life can throw hurdles your way when you’re least prepared. Without a support network or access to appropriate services things can really escalate, and seeking help can be difficult if you feel weighed down by feelings of shame and guilt.

Hutt St Centre provides non-judgemental support to people who are experiencing homelessness and disadvantage. Hutt St Centre has helped me get back on my feet. Through the support of my Social Worker I’ve managed to gain a private rental and full time work. I’ve also started volunteering in order to give back to those who helped me when I was down. I want to help those who are doing it tough understand that things can get better. 

*Names have been changed out of respect for the person who has generously shared their life experiences with us. Anthony kindly shared his story with us in 2017.

Martin – In Winter, condensation builds up inside my van 

“The biggest physical challenge, forgetting the health side of things, is the weather. In winter, condensation builds up inside my van, and I feel it on the top of my blanket on cold mornings” 

Martin's life experiences

Martin* had a good life in Perth working in labour and construction for over 30 years. In 2016 Martin was hit with the news that he had developed Parkinson’s disease. Aside from the devastating effects of the disease on his personal wellbeing, he knew instantly that this would ultimately affect his ability to work.

In 2015 when Martin was out of work in Western Australia, he was excited by the prospect of a job lined up through a friend in South Australia. Martin pulled together the last of his savings, packed his van and hit the road with high hopes for the future. When Martin arrived on site to this promised work, he was confronted with the reality of his yet to be diagnosed condition when he failed his pre-work medical exam, meaning that he would devastatingly lose this opportunity.

Being an Australian resident and citizen of New Zealand, Martin is unable to receive any financial support while job seeking, meaning the pressure to find work was enormous, especially with the additional financial burden of his medical bills.

This was the beginning of a tough year for Martin.

Feeling low and depressed, Martin arrived in Adelaide with little money and no support network or employment prospects. Coming to terms with his illness, Martin spent his days in his van or walking around the city and trying to stay busy between looking for work.

On one of these walks, Martin discovered Hutt St Centre by chance. He saw a group of people outside the centre and suspected they may be serving food, or better yet, have shower facilities. “At that point I wasn’t as worried about being hungry as I was about having a shower”, Martin explains.

Martin describes the relief he felt when he first came to the Day Centre, and how supportive and kind the staff were. “It’s not a proud moment” Martin says, speaking of the first time he found himself lining up for a meal, “but the staff are very kind and they don’t judge” he explains.

Martin’s personal struggles continued and he was becoming depressed and weighed down by his feelings of hopelessness. In February this year Martin’s condition worsened to the point where he has no control over the shaking in his right hand, but he feels he has bigger problems ahead of him.

“The biggest physical challenge, forgetting the health side of things, is the weather. In winter, condensation builds up inside my van, and I feel it on the top of my blanket on cold mornings. There’s no escaping it”.

“Basically I don’t really know what I would have done if I hadn’t found Hutt St Centre. I certainly wouldn’t have lasted this long, that’s for sure”

As Martin has been unable to get work, he has been living with no income which means that it is near impossible for him to secure accommodation. For over 6 months Martin has been left with no option but to live out of his van until his circumstances change. Hutt St Centre have been able to provide Martin with daily meals and some medication which he is overwhelmingly grateful for.

Can you imagine, living with a painful and debilitating medical condition that prohibits you from gaining employment, while living out of a van in a country where you have no family support network?

Our Social Workers and Day Centre staff are doing all they can to help Martin work towards a better quality of life. We are amazed by his ability to maintain a positive attitude. He says one of the things he has been most grateful for is the way that the staff at Hutt St Centre have helped him stay optimistic. Martin realises his health won’t get any better, but he is setting himself some personal goals. “In the future I would like to get a unit in Adelaide or in my home town, Geelong”, he says, “and I’ll exercise to help the problems with my back”.

Martin described the impact of the support from Hutt St Centre on his life saying, “To start, I’m still here. Because I probably wouldn’t have been”.

In May, Martin received his first disability pension payment but hasn’t touched a cent of it because he is still waiting on final approval of his eligibility for the payment. The risk that he may have to pay it back has left Martin waiting for an answer on his financial security. “I first just want to insure my van” Martin says, explaining how desperately he needs the money while still feeling such uncertainty. 

*Names have been changed out of respect for the person who has generously shared their life experiences with us. Martin shared his story with us in 2017.

Ray – A tipping point and a turning point 

Ray* remembers a happy early childhood, with a deep love and respect for his dad.

But at the age of seven, an inconceivable tragedy struck. Ray’s dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Five months later, he was gone.

“Mum was 28 then, with three kids under seven. Life as we knew it totally changed. Mum started to hit the alcohol pretty hard. She had a nervous breakdown and had to go to Hillcrest Hospital for help,” says Ray.

“It was Nana that stepped in and helped to care for us kids. Nana made sure that Christmas was still good for us, too. But it was never the same after dad died. I missed him so much.”

Around this time, Ray and his younger brother, David, experienced sexual abuse. At the hands of their uncle, their lives were shattered again, along with their ability to trust.

“We stuck together, David and I. We couldn’t tell anyone because our uncle threatened us. We became closer than ever.”

If this wasn’t enough, Ray was to take another enormous blow with David’s devastating death at just 19, also due to cancer. Unbelievably four weeks later, he lost his beloved grandmother, too.

“When David died, it was like half of me went.”

Ray had already dealt with so much. This was the tipping point. Life has never been the same since.

“Mum was shattered. She tried hard to hold the family together and she did well; she didn’t rely on alcohol this time. But I started slipping away into a world of grief. Alcoholism took hold and I couldn’t keep a job.”

After a time, Ray managed to rebuild his life, had a relationship and a son. But this comfort was snatched away, too. After a difficult relationship breakdown with his ex-partner, he lost contact with his son, who was just six.

“After I lost my son, I was out on the street, off-and-on for years. I even did some time in jail. While I was in there my mum died as well, which was really tough on me.

"I’ve worked since then but when someone cut up all my work clothes after an argument I really lost it.  I thought I was a liability for my boss so I quit my job. I was in a really bad place."

Ray’s been to the brink more than once.

The pain of not being by his mum’s side when she died, losing contact with his son and everyone close to him, it all became too much for Ray and he tried to take his own life.

That was a turning point for Ray.

“I woke up from this attempt and straight away wondered why I was so special. Why had I been given another chance over other people who had done great things?

“I came to Hutt St after hearing about it from a friend on the street. I was reluctant at first because I’m not really good with lots of people but everyone is so friendly and welcoming. I get to eat a meal every day, have a shower and do my laundry. They even have internet and help with my post. It sounds corny but it does make me feel good on the inside – and I’m so grateful for the support of the community and all the staff and volunteers at Hutt St Centre for helping people like me.

“If it wasn’t for Hutt St Centre, I’ll tell you straight out, I would not be sitting here. It’s such a good, positive environment.”

This is why the services provided by your generosity are so vital. Each year in South Australia, almost 6,000 people seek help from agencies like Hutt St Centre.

Without your support people like Ray, who have lived their life on a rollercoaster of tragedy and despair, would be lost; people who desperately need to feel that someone, anyone, cares enough to reach out a helping hand.

“Christmas died for me when dad died. I realise now though that it is still special because I feel that everyone I’ve lost is still with me in spirit. They've not gone, not really. I keep them close to my heart and remember them, especially at Christmas.

“I know there is still good in me. I’m still trying to work out my purpose in life - my time isn't up yet. Coming to Hutt St Centre, and feeling good about myself, with the support I have here, keeps me going. I really do believe that things will get better, with time.”

 *Names have been changed out of respect for the person who has generously shared their experiences with homelessness with us. Ray shared his story in 2016.

Graham – It's hard to believe a 6 year old could be 'forgotten' in their own home 

Graham’s* journey towards homelessness began when he was just six years of age. An innocent, loving child, Graham and his brother were gradually forgotten as their parents descended into a frightening world of binge drinking and mental illness.
 

“I remember a loving, caring family where I was well cared for - before alcohol took my parents away from me. They both started drinking heavily. That loving family turned into a world I didn’t recognise and a world I didn’t understand. It was so painful to watch the gradual decline of my mother’s mental and physical health until she had nothing left to give. Eventually there was no emotional or physical support from either of my parents.

“That’s when the nightmares started, for both me and my brother. We would wake up screaming in the dark, but there was no one to comfort us. Every night I’d roll myself up into a tight ball, clench my fists, hoping that these nightmares wouldn't come. But they always did.

“At school I was exhausted and afraid every day. I would sit on the footpath outside, unable to even go into the classroom. My mother probably thought she was doing the right thing taking me to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with acute depression and anxiety and put on heavy medication. I was only 10.

They admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I was the only child there with about 24 men. Fortunately I wasn't abused, thank goodness. But I endured three months of electrical convulsive shock treatment. I would wake up with shocking headaches as if someone had hit me over the head with a hammer.

After a year I was discharged from the hospital and sent home and thankfully my brother took charge. He literally dragged me to a local gym, where my life began to change. The lovely man who owned the gym knew my story and he helped me too. Getting fit and feeling good was just what I needed. It led to me joining a rugby team, a boxing club and learning martial arts.

Feeling good about myself again helped me go back to night school, join the Army Reserves and the Royal Australian Air Force. I aced the exams and became a firefighter. I got married, had kids. But then everything fell apart again when my brother was tragically killed. I went into a deep depression.

My marriage broke down. I sold my parents house, which I’d inherited, bought a smaller house but the depression took over, and I lost everything.I didn’t tell my children or my friends. I had to live out of my car. I had nothing.

Then one day, when I was getting food from the Salvation Army, someone said I ought to get counselling. I spoke to Relationships Australia and they referred me to Hutt St Centre.

Everything seems to have fallen into place since that first meeting. I successfully gained a home thanks to my military service and the help of Hutt St. I started going to activities at Hutt St.

While I was living in my car, I couldn't see any way out of it. Now I've got my own place, for the first time in 30 years. I eat healthy and look after myself. I feel like my life has turned around. I've got a meaningful life again. And I like to tell people about that, especially homeless people. There is hope. Thanks to Hutt St. 

Like most people experiencing homelessness, Graham’s story is one of tragedy, a life in which he had few choices and no support.  

*Names have been changed out of respect for the person who has generously shared their experiences with homelessness with us. Graham shared his story in 2018.

 

These life experiences kindly shared are why the wellbeing and professional services provided by your generosity are so vital. 

Without your support people like Deb, Anthony, Martin, Ray and Graham who have lived their life on a rollercoaster of tragedy and despair, would be lost; people who desperately need to feel that someone, anyone, cares enough to reach out a helping hand.