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Life on the streets

By johnboy - 4 August 2010 69

[First filed: Aug 2, 2010 @ 20:02]

car [Car in photo not actual car of homeless person]

New user “Homeless” left the following as a comment, but I thought it was worth a read in its own right:

I have been a regular reader of this soap box for a while, but up until now I’ve never posted. Well yeah, I’m homeless as my user name implies. So I read some of the most recent posts on being homeless and I thought it is about time I registered to put my own 2 cents worth in. I want you to realise that not all homeless waste money on drugs or beer. We are not all beggars. We don’t all look as though we’ve not washed in weeks. We’re not even all on the dole. Some of us are educated, some of is get jobs.

Okay, so what is it really like being homeless in Canberra? I’ll tell you. It’s cold, it’s scary and it’s really really lonely.

A typical day starts with me rolling out of my make shift bed in the back of my car. I count my blessings that I have a car because without it I would be sleeping on the cold hard ground. Sleeping in the bushes in Glebe Park, or under some of the stairways in the centre of the city. If I’m lucky I might be able to find a toilet in a building which has 24 hour access and lock myself in to sleep on the floor like I know a few friends of mine do.

I’m still fairly new to the game and painfully shy and afraid of people so I don’t know what services are available to me here. I avoid the homeless joints. Too many druggies and drinkers there. I’ve stayed in some before, but they all move you on. They all want evidence that you are unemployed too, so without a Centerlink benefit it is no go. I don’t know how others do it, get the dole with no fixed address. They won’t even take a post office box so I didn’t renew the one I had.

As the sun comes up and the city awakens so do I. The light and noise wakes me from my slumber. I wake up, stretch out and try work the aches and pains out. It is very cold in winter, so I tend to sleep in till I need to go to the toilet. I park within walking distance of toilets most times. I have a porta potty in the car, but I try to keep that for emergencies. I try to avid getting bad smells in the car. They linger. So I keep clean, keep my cloths clean, cook outside. Use deodorant. Have a car freshener deodoriser thing.

Some days I drive out to Queanbeyan for a free shower. The one by the visitor’s centre is the only free shower I know of in the area. Some days I go to a swimming pool and go for a swim and a shower. Some days it is a wash down with a wet face washer and wet wipes. I’ve shaved in the car hundreds of times. I joke that my glove box is my bathroom. I keep a face washer, wet wipes, deodorant, shavers, hair brush and other cleaning stuff in there.

I’ll clean up and put some cloths on. I love the smell of fresh clean cloths. I wash mine once a week at the laundry mat. It is steep, but clean cloths make such a wonderful difference to how I feel about the world. If you saw me in the street, odds are on that you would not think I was homeless from my cloths, but my shoes give it away.

Early in the morning I will drive or walk into town for something to eat. I can get a free breakfast most days. But not always. Some days I don’t feel like mixing with the crowds, or anyone for that matter. Some days are hard to handle. So I’ll eat breakfast in the car. Cereal and long life milk. Baked beans out of a can. Bread and spread. I try to mix it up. Get a variety to eat healthy.

After breakfast I try go to the library. It’s warm there. I can look for work on the Internet. If I am working, which is not often, I’ll go to work. Funny how even in this town some one with a university qualification can’t get good work. Oh yeah, I do get work on a regular basis. Cleaning, sales, telemarketing. They don’t last long. Without a resent job history work is hard to get. I have a mobile phone, even a laptop and mobile Internet so I am contactable, but still, jobs have never come easy to me. I’m all right in interviews, but the jobs don’t last.

I freely admit I have some serious mental health issues. I try to get around them, but it is not easy. I had very violent parents, or well at least parent and partner. Yelling and screaming were common place as a child. They were smart though, only hit me where it would not show. I went to school with a lot of accidental injuries. Oh yeah, I was accident prone wasn’t I? Made stuff up about my parents too didn’t I? How the hell people could have seen the shit that happened to me and done nothing about it is beyond me. I still am afraid to go to sleep, memories of being woken up and yelled at or beaten scare the hell out of me even today. Then there are the mind blocks. Some times I’ll remember something and just freeze up. Pausing for a few seconds when you should be frying burgers or listening to your boss does not endear you to a long lasting job.

I don’t totally freeze up, I can concentrate enough to drive no worries. It is only sometimes when I work and my mind wanders that it happens. Mind lock, reliving a memory that won’t go away. I’ve tried to make them go away, seen counsellors, shrinks, all that. None of it has worked. Besides, people scare me, and I have problems relating to them. I never really developed the skills. A lot of people mistake my quietness and sticking to the job for something else, I don’t know, I’ve been told I’m not a team player. Others take advantage of it, and start bullying me or putting me down. I can’t handle that so I walk out. It brings back too many bad memories.

So anyway, I’ll usually look for work, apply for at least two jobs a day. That’s the target I’ve set myself. I don’t have access to job seeking help because I don’t get the dole but I’ve had a lot of experience writing job applications. A good application has to be tailored for a job. Sometimes I can copy and paste and modify, but most need some research and have to be written from scratch so that takes a few hours each. Some times I go cold canvassing for sales jobs, but people recognise me from the last time I asked now and ask me to go away. I’ve been told not to come back to some places. I work on the applications in the library, email them to my laptop. Some libraries let me use a memory stick so that’s better for me. My wireless plan was prepaid when I had the money about 8 months ago. It’s limited, so I use the library for Internet when I can.

Because I have no fixed address I get no unemployment benefit so yeah, I need to keep looking for work, get jobs, live on what I can, put some aside for being between jobs, put some aside for registration and insurance. Put some aside to look after the car. I never used to know about fixing things like spark plugs, oil filters, fuel filters, replacing batteries or that stuff until I lost my first long term job out of uni. Now I’ve had to learn.

During the day I’ll probably meet with some other people I know. Some homeless, some not. Some times some people will give me some dollars to drive them places. We’ll usually go over to some place to get lunch if we can. I can’t store food for long in the car even though I have an eski. In summer it is much harder to keep food for long. There’s nothing like the smell of off milk too. Evil smell. Some times I go down to the city, watch the street sleepers play the invisible game. They ask you for money. You pretend you don’t see them.

So I sit around, writing up applications on my laptop. Second hand, but it does the job. I might go for a walk. Go for a swim. Go to the Youth Hostel to catch up with people I know who live there. I tried begging in Garema place, but I don’t look homeless, and you know you’ve hit rock bottom when you have to beg. I hang out in the Canberra Centre or other shopping malls some times. They’re warm and some have free Internet. I try catch up with some of the other homeless people I know. Just talk. Share a meal. Go search the op shops for cheap cloths and blankets. The op shops never seem to have any good blankets. I’d love some good woollen ones. It is so cold here.

Might watch a little TV. There are lots of places you can watch TV for free. I have a little DVD player in the car. I watch DVDs borrowed from the library. I read books. I get online and read the news, surf forums, try to teach myself new stuff. I wish there were good free correspondence courses online that lead to proper qualifications. If it is a laundry day I do laundry. If I have books or DVDs due I take them back, borrow some new ones. Mostly I sit in the car or wander around trying to keep warm. Summer is great, I can get out of the car and relax in the many quiet places of Canberra that no one goes. Winter is a killer, homeless people die in winter, even in cars. Mostly I read and try to keep warm. That’s the problem with being unemployed, lots of time on your hands, so little money to do things with.

As the day draws to a close I send off job applications. Most days I can get dinner, but some times I eat in the car. Never take away. It costs too much. I have a small stove and can cook stuff. Some other people I know some times find me, and we cook something. Simple food. Lots of sauce. The dry causlaw packets they sell at supermarkets are great. Just add mayonnaise and you can eat it straight out of the packet.

Night means finding a new place to sleep. It has to be quiet. It’s useful if it is near by a toilet. Better if there is a barbecue near by too. So I settle down, wind the windows down a slight bit. Try to go to sleep when every sound sounds like some one trying to break into my car. I’ve been woken by young men squirting water, beer and even what I think was piss into the car windows. Had them shaking my car and even jumping against it. Why don’t people leave me in peace? All I can do is jump in the front and drive away.

Now, before people ask. I don’t drink. I don’t take drugs. I don’t smoke (I can’t afford to). I get no benefits. I regularly look for work. I don’t look dirty or unkempt apart from my shoes. I don’t hassle people. I keep to myself most of the time. I help others out when I can. I have a university degree

What as a homeless person do I want?
Yeah, I want a job. I want a place of my own to call home. I want some one special to care for me. I want society to care for each other. I want love. I want all of those things. Will I get them? I’ll believe it when I see it. Just like I’ll believe all those promises by government to do better for homeless people. Just like I’ll believe it when I see this No more homeless turned away policy. For us homeless, it’s all the same crap, same stuff, coming out of different mouths. All talk, no action.

Yeah, long first post I know, but hey, I have a lot of time, and nothing else to do.

What’s Your opinion?


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69 Responses to
Life on the streets
Brindabella 10:36 pm 02 Aug 10

Great write-up.

Interesting stuff. What degree do you have? What type of work/field are you really interested in?

CanberraCreative 10:13 pm 02 Aug 10

I think this illustrates wonderfully the truth rather than the stereotype of homeless people. The stereotype dictates that the homeless are uneducated, lazy people who speak with cockney accents and waste what little money the scavenge on booze and drugs. And to be sure many homeless people fit this profile. But just as many don’t and that has become all the more apparent in light of the GFC where many well educated, formerly well off people have fallen on hard times. Lawyers with masters degrees interviewed on NPR camping out in the cold in job queues is not uncommon. Their choice is often between loosing their home of doing cleaning work for minimum wage. Some have still lost their homes.

Beau Locks 10:06 pm 02 Aug 10

Thumper said :

One thing I admired enormously about our last PM was his genuine desire to improve things for people experiencing homelessness. For the sake of the nation’s homeless people, I sincerely hope that Gillard gets in and keeps up with the work that began under Kevin Rudd and Tanya Plibersek’s stewardship.

Wow, way to not politicise an issue.

Fair cop, but I feel strongly about the issue, and I’m probably more engaged in this area than the average punter. I didn’t like Rudd’s style of government, but his government’s work (and yes, Therese Rein’s too) had begun to make a difference for people experiencing homelessness, and will continue to do so if the same policies and programs are continued (and hopefully expanded), regardless of who wins the next election. Unfortunately, Tony Abbott has refused to commit to any of this work, including the Rudd Government’s goal to halve homelessness by 2020. In fact, Abbott recently told a room full of people, many of whom were homelessness service providers, that being homeless is a ‘choice’.

So, for what it’s worth, and as far as this one’s concerned, the personal is political, and sometimes issues are worth politicising.

Thumper 9:50 pm 02 Aug 10

Fair call JB, however, Therese Rein was never a part of the government and Mr Rudd is history. I could also add that from my experience these clowns couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery, let alone do anything about the homeless.

Having said that I’d like to see a great increase nationally in hostels, public housing and emergency accomdodation. The problem is sadly only going to get worse.

johnboy 9:43 pm 02 Aug 10

To be fair Thumper, Therese Rein invested a huge amount of time and her own money on this issue. In many ways she was the biggest loss to the nation in the coup.

sunshine 9:39 pm 02 Aug 10

very brave of you to write your life as a homeless person…….please give canberra men’s centre a call 6230 6999. ask to speak to mr franks. he has a very kind heart and will help in regards to accommodation, food, services, advocacy, outreach support etc….i know plenty of homeless men who have been helped by this organisation. it’s there to help, so please, use it 🙂

Thumper 9:39 pm 02 Aug 10

One thing I admired enormously about our last PM was his genuine desire to improve things for people experiencing homelessness. For the sake of the nation’s homeless people, I sincerely hope that Gillard gets in and keeps up with the work that began under Kevin Rudd and Tanya Plibersek’s stewardship.

Wow, way to not politicise an issue.

johnboy 9:31 pm 02 Aug 10

Anyone wanting to make offers of help needs to leave contact details in the comments.

eyeLikeCarrots 9:26 pm 02 Aug 10

Homeless – PM me mate. If you want I’ll catch up with you and see how I can help.

I’m just a public service geek but someone helped me once and put me on the right path, maybe I can pay it forward a bit ?

sarahj 9:26 pm 02 Aug 10

Homeless – thank you for being so open in telling your story. So many people think that homelessness isn’t an issue in Canberra, but often it’s that they don’t know where to look or are willfully blind to the issue.

I know you haven’t asked for advice regarding services that can support you, but I thought I’d highlight some services that might be useful to you and others in similar situations.
You mention that you hang out at the Canberra Centre. There are lots of services based in the Griffin Centre, on Genge St (up from Cream Cafe). For example, Mission Heart have a shower (and a washing machine I think). There are both mens and womens services that could support you with food vouchers for Superbarn/phone cards etc. If you want any support regarding mental health issues, these services are often a good first step as they often advocate for people to get in to see the good doctors in town. And they often advocate for people with Centrelink, Housing, ACT Health etc etc and know the buzzwords you need to put in applications in order to get them to the top of the pile.

You sound like you’re making the best of a really difficult situation. Thank you again for your honesty.

Beau Locks 9:10 pm 02 Aug 10

Thanks for your post Homeless. Very humbling, and makes me feel so thankful for the roof over my head and my job.

It’s a crying shame that in a country as rich as ours over 100,000 people are homeless every night.

One thing I admired enormously about our last PM was his genuine desire to improve things for people experiencing homelessness. For the sake of the nation’s homeless people, I sincerely hope that Gillard gets in and keeps up with the work that began under Kevin Rudd and Tanya Plibersek’s stewardship.

Through my work, as well as personal experience, I know how terribly difficult it can be to access the severely limited range of services available. I also know what anyone who does social policy work or works for homeless services know: the face of homelessness is not what the public generally perceives. (In fact, the biggest cause of homelessness is domestic violence.) Homelessness is also somewhat of a ‘hidden’ problem in Canberra, but a very real one.

I hope that more stories like yours can be told and shared with a wider audience, and that one day we may reach a point where the telling of them will, for the vast majority of the time, be in past tense.

androo 9:09 pm 02 Aug 10

All I can say is ‘thank you’ for posting such an account of your day, of life on the streets, and in airing what so many of us simply ignore.

I shall go through my cupboards this week to find what I can give away.

squirell 9:04 pm 02 Aug 10

Thankyou for this post, an interesting read into a life i couldn’t even imagine.

grumpyrhonda 9:01 pm 02 Aug 10

Go to Nature Conservation House on the corner of Emu Bank and Benjamin Way. Department of housing is there and the people at the front counter can give you some information about places that will be able to help you while you are homeless. The staff there really do care. They can point you in a direction that would be most suitable for you. Apply for housing if you haven’t already. The staff there can help you in all manner of things. Even getting Centrelink benefits with no fixed address. Try the cleaning companies in town. Mastercare Property Services, Empire Cleaning and others. Cleaning toilets sucks but it pays about $17 per hour. I did it myself for 6 years before I got a day job. The bonus is that you have your car. Most cleaning jobs, you have to travel at night to them. There really is some hope out there. My best wishes to you.

justsomeaussie 8:59 pm 02 Aug 10

“Homeless” you are welcome to send me a message. I’ve got extreme cold weather sleeping bag from my days in the army and other gear that you can have. Not a charity case, just someone helping someone else out. Let me know.

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