“When my dad died, Christmas died, too.”
When Ray* thinks of his early childhood, his heart aches for a time when he wasn’t afraid, alone and hungry.
Ray will be just one of thousands of people who will be homeless this Christmas.
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 story.
Photos of Ray with kind thanks to DreamTeamImaging