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 in between. 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.
“Pull yourself up from your own bootstraps,” (Days 118 – 157)
Over the last twenty-four months I’ve heard this phrase – or derivations of it – more times than I’ve had hot dinners. Many ‘social commentators’ (read: nameless individuals hiding behind pseudonyms) genuinely believe that these words are sound advice to give to those suffering from homelessness.
On December 3rd 2009 I obtained accommodation. This room did not fall fortuitously into my lap. I had not been sitting in a park when, all of a sudden, a residential unit tumbled from the sky a la The Wizard of Oz. The room I acquired was achieved after 117 days of hard work.
I had visited every homeless organisation I could find. I had humiliated myself by begging on the streets for spare change. I had hunted for jobs. I had done unspeakable things to try to pull myself out of my situation. I had suffered horrifying periods of mental instability.
The receptionist on that day was a twentysomething brunette wearing a blue skirt suit. She had a red hairpin just above her left ear and a well spoken Australian accent. I didn’t say much, merely signed the relevant papers, showed her my ID and took the keycard.
The ‘thank you’ I spoke was one of the most genuine I had ever said in my life.
Within five minutes I had travelled to the 5th floor and was swiping my card through the electronic lock. Within six minutes I had dumped my meagre belongings on the floor and collapsed onto the bed. Within eight minutes I was asleep; months of parks, thunderstorms, beatings, abuse, suicidal ideation, malnutrition, hail storms and floods had taken their toll.
Thirteen hours later I woke up and…this is where all the believers of the ‘bootstraps’ approach lean back in their chair and feel vindicated…for the remainder of the day I did nothing!
For the entire of that Wednesday I left my bed only to go to the bathroom. I stared at the ceiling. I wept. I watched Angel. I ate stale bread. I wept some more. I watched Primeval. I wept until my ducts were dry. And then I slept.
Yep, a homeless person sat around and did nothing. How conforming to stereotype I became. But as you rub your hands in glee can I direct your attention to three paragraphs above. That wee little bit where I mentioned months of parks, thunderstorms, beatings, abuse, suicidal ideation, malnutrition, hail storms and floods. Could I also remind you of my use of the words humiliation and unspeakable acts. Oh, and that pesky little thing called mental illness.
For the one thing people who follow this mythological belief fail to take into account is the mental drain homelessness has on someone. It is not a ribald adventure full of jovial gin swigging individuals. It is a torturous painful existence that has a dramatic effect on mind, body and soul.
Do I feel bad for being lazy that day? Of course I do. Do I hate myself for it? Absolutely not.
I had been through nearly four months of daily hard work, toil and sacrifice; I needed aday far more than your average nine-to-fiver who’s had an argument with his girlfriend.
For without that day I would have been reduced to a dribbling, incoherant wreck instead of, over the coming weeks, beginning to rectify my homelessness and mental health.
Asshut down on the approach to Christmas, I set to work doing exactly what people suggest homeless people do. I pulled up my bootstraps:
- Knowing I needed medication I went to a GP and got some.
- They put me in contact with a mental health team.
- Utilising the free gym at the place I was staying, I began getting my ass back into tip-top shape.
- During the hours I wasn’t comatosed as a result of the medication, I wrote. Sometimes I would do so in bed, sometimes in the park across the road. If I was feeling more adventurous I’d walk the short distance to Merri Creek.
- After writing I would make use of the free computers at the library and type it up.
- Whilst there I slid myself gently back into social networking and began talking to people again.
- I kept my eye out for any job opportunities and applied for any and all I could find.
As Christmas came and went I’d: written the worst novella a human being has ever inscribed, three much better short stories that were published in dark and secluded corners of the internet, was well on the way to stabilising my mental health and – for the first time since becoming homeless – I’d began to feel human again.
I was making headway with my mental health, keeping up with my meds, pursuing employment opportunities, being more social online and ensuring my buttocks were taking on a more desirable shape. After months of doubt, I genuinely believed my hard work was about to pay off and I would be allowed to ‘live’ again.
Until, through no fault of my own, the accommodation I had called ‘home’ was pulled away on financial and over-booking grounds.
I was standing in my room, bags packed, with tears streaming my face. Not a single part of me wanted to leave the hotel. Descending the stairs I was met at reception by the woman who had checked me in. She’d had a haircut since that day and no longer needed the pin. Her accent was just as alluring as we completed the check out and I issued a far less genuine ‘thanks’ as I walked out the building that I’d begun to call home.
The shock of leaving the hotel that morning was greater than on August 8. I stumbled through the suburbs until I reached the creek. From there I collapsed on the dry earth and threw half of my possessions into the water; including all the notepads I’d filled with writing over the previous seven weeks.
This time I’d skipped denial and moved straight into anger.
I don’t know how long I sat on the shores of the creek. All I know is that it was long enough to watch my happiness and dreams float away out of sight.
All the happiness I’d created for myself; the joy of being able to write again, the pride of seeing my words on-screen, the satisfaction of carving out a body I didn’t despise, the stability I’d fostered in my mental health, had all dissapated by the time I rose from that shoreline.
It is never a simple case of pulling yourself up from your bootstraps. Anyone who believes this is failing to take into account lack of income, financial concerns, mental health issues, trauma, abuse (current and prior), addiction, the lack of jobs/affordable housing and, despite all of this, homeless people do work incredibly hard to get themselves out of their situation.
In hindsight, giving myself only one day to recover from the months I’d had homeless, fuelled by the belief that by giving myself more time I would be confirming my abusive exes opinion I was ‘lazy’, was stupid. I tried to do far too much after not giving myself anywhere near enough time to recover from the trauma I was suffering, let alone the mental health issues.
But even with this mistake admitted, there was nothing I could have done about losing the accommodation. I did not choose to live, I had to leave. Even pulling the bootstraps until they snapped would not have allowed me to remain there.
As I walked slowly traveled toward the city I knew only three things for sure that day:
- It’s all too easy to blame the homeless for their situation, but it is rarely their fault.
- I was broken.
- Nothing would ever be the same again.