All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

Reflections on being homeless, Part 1

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In August 2009 I became homeless. It was not a choice I made, it was a situation born out of mental illness, the trauma of emotional abuse and other factors beyond my control.

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.

Beginning with…

8 August 2009 (Day One)

St Paul's Cathedral | Melbourne

St Paul’s Cathedral | Melbourne

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.

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.

Crown Casino | Melbourne

Crown Casino | Melbourne

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.

No-one said anything. No-one asked if I was okay. They just looked, some laughing, as I slowly stumbled down St Kilda Road toward the Kings Domain.

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.

11 thoughts on “Reflections on being homeless, Part 1

  1. Man Addy I can’t imagine how it must have felt. The shock alone…I wish it never happened to anyone. I have to say though that you have been given an incredible writing gift, that is something good. there is a reason for your existence.

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  2. Thank you for sharing.such a clear description of how quickly it is possible to become “outside” mainstream society. Wish you all the luck in the world for the future

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  3. I would like to add my voice to the others here and encourage you to continue writing and sharing your story.

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    • Thanks for your comment :) Writing about my time homeless is proving harder than I thought it would be, but I’m determined to continue until I’ve covered it all…warts and all. I think I need to in order to find some degree of acceptance and closure.

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  4. Wow. What an incredible story. I am very pleased to have found this blog and will continue to follow it – looking forward to new installments. I appreciate your courage in writing about your experience of homelessness. These kinds of things can be very difficult to share, but I think your writing is important. Renea

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  5. It’s been harder writing these pieces than I thought it would be. I’d initially planned them to be over a week, but I became stalled over the bad memories, so decided to space them out so as not to overwhelm myself. Rest assured I will continue to write them, and the fourth installment should be here in the next couple of days.

    Thank you for the comment, it means a lot to me :)

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  6. Yes, the homeless are invisible..and most could care less, until it happens to THEM! Will anything really ever change for the homeless?

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    • To be honest, however much I want to see homelessness become a thing of the past, I don’t think anything will ever really change.

      Those that understand (the homeless, the ex-homeless, the poverty stricken) do tremendous work advocating for change and making life better for those who are, or at risk of homelessness. But the people who can really make a difference (governments, the wealthy, the all powerful middle class) either don’t understand or simply don’t care…until it happens to them.

      But, we have to try because who else will? Maybe one day we’ll get the message across :)

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  7. Having a mental illness, ending up homeless is one thing that terrifies me to the core. I am so sorry for what you went through. As a society we should be ashamed that situations like this even happen. It’s simply not good enough. I’m really glad you are in a better place now.

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  8. Didnt you have any family that you could turn to in such trying times??

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    • Thanks for the comment :)

      Unfortunately all my family live in the UK. Although they offered support via the phone and internet when they could there was little else they were able to do.

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