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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
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fgzk 2:07 pm 08 Sep 11

You should post a story.

SandyRose said :

Are you homeless? Have you ever been homeless?
I am a student at the University of Canberra creating a documentary about homelessness in the Canberra region.
I am interested in hearing your story and making sure a wider audience can hear your story too.
I am also interested in hearing what services you think are needed in the Canberra area. You can remain anonymous if you wish.
Please contact me if you are interested:

SandyRose 1:55 pm 08 Sep 11

Are you homeless? Have you ever been homeless?
I am a student at the University of Canberra creating a documentary about homelessness in the Canberra region.
I am interested in hearing your story and making sure a wider audience can hear your story too.
I am also interested in hearing what services you think are needed in the Canberra area. You can remain anonymous if you wish.
Please contact me if you are interested:

oxleyroad 12:06 am 19 Sep 10

Thankyou for you comment Homeless. I have registered here so I can respond specifically to you.
First of all, let me say I hope you are genuine. I am not 100% sure you are not PR from a charity but I will give you the benefit of the doubt. I am particularly unsure how you are surviving financially without benefits.
Now, you might ask how I can say that and what I am about to say? Previously in Canberra, I sat on the Territory Council of a major charity. I would have made decision that impacted upon the aid you may have sought. I may have seen you, Homeless, in a separate role, in the soup kitchen in Garema Place. I may also have visited you in a charitable capacity in Havelock, Northbourne et al over many years. I could tell you every form of financial aid available in Canberra.
Which, many may think, makes what I am going to say maybe a bit strange: As warm and fuzzy and generous as PO Boxes and blankets are, you need to consider if that is really your problem. To me, your foremost problem seems to be a mental illness.
Now, how can I say that? Because I myself have struggled with anxiety and depression all my life, and this has been a contributing factor in losing the only jobs (2) I have had in the last couple of years (this is after finishing 8 years of uni) and me being currently unemployed.
I am currently in a Regional area in Victoria, and am looking to come back to Canberra for work (hence reading The riot Act) but after many years of struggle I know what will work and won’t work for what is most important for me. I’ll explain: without a job, if I came back to the Canberra housing market now, I’d be living in my car too, and that would trigger my depression and a downward spiral would form. Despite my illness, I know that life shouldn’t be that hard – a good friend in Canberra is on a $60K public job with little work, and a friend in Vic is similar with his own business. They both have minor mental issues but have worked through them.
So think about what will get you moving upwards. Unfortunately, that is not something as simple as a blanket.
It may be moving to, example, where I am, where a flat can be rented for $80 a week with a 90 minute train to the CBD for work and a 60 minute train to a good psych. It may be some serious prescription medication from the doc (down here they are bulk bill). It may be moving to where you know someone. It may be neither. But you have to know what is important to you – if that is getting a job (and this is something I am still uncertain about for myself) spending hours applying may not be the best thing if you can’t handle it (and I completely understand why) – a few hours reading about therapy might be better.
Don’t do the same thing as before and expect a different result.

One of the hardest things about mental illness is that it affects one’s ability to address itself – to see things rationally – to plan a way out.
Be confident that a lot of people in this country, despite the bureaucracy and politics, want to help, and if you break the cycle of what has been harming you until this point, life can be easy, and it will only get easier as you address what is causing your biggest problems.
I believe it or I wouldn’t still be trying myself.

Now, I will check back on this thread, but to be honest it is a bit depressing for me, so not regularly. If you would like to talk, get in contact.

cb60 8:42 pm 18 Aug 10

fgzk well because if you are single unless you have a mental illness or addiction or something which prevents you from receiving centrelink payments, you are really just roughing it because you can easily pitch a tent at a caravan park or sleep in a car or on someone’s couch… it’s a whole different story when there are kids involved. So it is impossible for me to have sympathy for the individual above not that I don’t wish them better luck in future!

TheObserver 12:41 pm 18 Aug 10

Good on you Rossy

fgzk 9:12 am 18 Aug 10

cb60 I don’t get your point. “homeless” experiences are totally consistent with the homeless experience. I see no evidence to doubt his story. If anything having children will guarantee some kind of long term support eventually. As it should. I take it you are now housed.

NeedHelp 6:57 am 18 Aug 10

DavidCCEO said :

Hi, my name’s David Rothschild and I’m one of the Centrelink Community Engagement Officers for the ACT and surrounds.

In reply to Homeless and in response to Aubergine and others, I can confirm that you don’t need a fixed address in order to receive Centrelink assistance. My job is to offer extra support and assistance to particularly vulnerable customers including the homeless and we can still deliver services without a fixed address.

I’m based at the Braddon Centrelink Customer Service Centre but you can contact me by dropping in at any of the ACT Centrelink offices and asking for an appointment.

From what you are saying Homeless it seems I might be able to help you – and for anyone else reading this, please pass on that there are Centrelink services available to eligible people with no fixed address.

Good to know. I hope ‘homeless’ sees this.

brendan950 11:41 pm 17 Aug 10

cb60 or anyone who has experienced being homeless or has an opinion and would like to be voiced please email me in the next couple days, i am really interested to speak to some people about this first hand as i believe it is an important issue for canberra. thanks

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