I was homeless until March 2012, when I finally gained a privately rented unit. In that time I slept in parks, alleys, boarding houses, tents and everywhere inbetween. I attempted suicide, lost all sense of reality and learned to both despise and love this world.
I have yet to come to terms with the last two and a half years and in spite of my current accommodation, still feel homeless to this day.
Throughout this week I will be looking back on my homelessness in an effort to understand what has happened to me as well as holding onto the hope that others will learn from what I have been through.
8 August 2009 (Day One)
It was a Saturday when I checked out of a backpacker hostel in Melbourne and walked down Flinders Street with a heavy heart.
My money had run out.
There was no-one to turn to.
I was homeless.
The first thing I did was walk toward Southern Cross station. I knew there were lockers there where I could store what few possessions I had left; mainly clothing and a collection of resumes.
Almost everything of value had been sold or pawned in my quest to find employment and stave off the situation I now faced. Gone were laptops, years of photography and writing stored on hard-drives, a Nintendo DS I would use to stave off anxiety and an iPod I used to control hallucinations. Looking back, perhaps getting rid of this stuff was foolish, but in the weeks leading up to this day I’d been hunting for work seven days a week, thirty plus hours a day. I was convinced I’d find something and thus be able to pay off the cash loans to get my possessions back. It was a gamble that hadn’t paid off.
As I walked aimlessly around the city I was reminded of my time on the street in late 2007/2008. Of the long sleepless nights and overwhelming sense of despair that had filled each day. Fighting mental illness is hard enough, to do it without the safety and security of somewhere to live is nigh on impossible
By a stroke of happenstance this weekend fell at the end of Homeless Person’s Week. In the grounds of St. Paul’s Cathedral the Salvation Army had organised a community event where there was free food and entertainment. The hope was to bring the community together and raise awareness of the homeless plight that plagues our nation and the world.
Although I attempted to, I could eat nothing. I was nauseous with anxiety, light headed with panic and felt I was going to throw up at any moment. With all the work I’d done to stabilise myself, to find work, to rebuild from the ground up I couldn’t understand what I had done to deserve this. A cloak of loneliness hung over me as I stared vacantly at the faces of those around me.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a stall handing out free blankets.
I had been so consumed with what was happening I hadn’t prepared myself for survival. Eighteen months earlier it had been summer, the nights had been stifling and warm, nearing 30 degrees on one occasion. It was now August, the dead of winter, and I had nothing but my jacket and a few T-shirts to keep me warm.
I queued amidst the gaggle of shoppers who had accumulated to collect their free blanket. I remember looking at them and wondering what they would use it for. Why did they need a free blanket when they were loaded down with plastic bags overflowing with branded clothing, electronic gadgetry and mutli-hundred dollar shoes?
The volunteers behind the table struggled to maintain order and begged people to take only one blanket each so there were some left for those who needed it. It was a valiant, though futile effort.
By the time I reached the front of the queue there were only a few blankets left. Out of nowhere a lady with a Myer bag snatched out and whipped two off the top of the pile before dashing anonymously into the crowd. Shaking my head I carefully picked up a blanket and thanked the ladies for their assistance. They asked me if I had anywhere to stay tonight and I said I did.
If I said the word out loud it would make the situation real, something I wasn’t yet ready to do.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in numbed state. I sat watching the free music for a while before disappearing into the city. I don’t remember where I went or what I did, all I remember is the state of hopelessness that had descended over me.
By the time night fell I was standing on Princes Street bridge looking down the Yarra toward Southbank. Out of nowhere the flames ignited the sky outside the casino and I began to cry.
For hours I had bottled up my emotion but the memories that exploded in response to this trigger were too much. I just stood there sobbing, tears streaming my cheeks, my body trembling from cold and emotion, whilst dozens of people walked by.
Laughing people. Happy people. Sexy people. Connected people. Hopeful people.
Reaching the gardens I found the toilets I knew were there and headed straight for them. My knees hit the concrete floor with a crack as I vomited into a toilet. I vomited again, and again, until all I was reconstituting was bile and emptiness.
The night was cold, biting at my face and hands as I walked toward a bench. My energy was spent, my brain not functioning. I lit a smoke and gazed over the city skyline, thinking of everyone dancing and drinking the night away, of the life I’d once had and the uncertain future before me.
I thought of how many other people were in my position on this freezing night.
I wondered how many people even cared.
Pulling the blanket from my bag I unpacked it and spread it out wide. A small ‘Qantas‘ tag decorated the red; an airline blanket, barely a few millimetres thick would be my only warmth for the night.
Using a backpack containing only a change of clothes and two books for a pillow I curled up as best I could on the wood. It dug into my hips and the bench itself was too short for my length. My knees doubling over painfully to accommodate me. The blanket covered only 2/3 of me, leaving both head and feet exposed to the elements. My whole body ached from the cold, I could barely feel my feet, hands or the tears that trickled my face.
I didn’t move for the remainder of the night. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t think.
I did nothing but stare into the abyss that stretched out before me.