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…


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Reflections on being homeless, Epilogue

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 in between. I attempted suicide, lost all sense of reality and learned to both despise and love this world.

In this series I am 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. Some memories are stronger than others, some more painful than others whilst some have been blocked completely.

Today, in this special epilogue, I look at an aspect of homelessness many people overlook…

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
| PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 | PART 8 |

The first week

The first meal I cooked in my new house – on the 24th February 2012 – was jacket potatoes with cheese and butter. Ever since I was a teenager, this has been a tradition of mine. Whenever I move into a new place, I cook myself my favourite meal in celebration. I used to do it when I moved rooms in my parent’s house. I indulged in it throughout my backpacking odyssey and in every new unit/home I’ve had since. Usually I would have a table to eat off. Usually I would have a plate and cutlery. But on this occasion, after moving into my new unit from homelessness, I had nothing. All I had were my hands; so consuming such a meal was a decidedly messy (though thoroughly enjoyable) experience.

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Me; not long after moving into my unit in 2012.

In fact, that first weekend, the only thing stopping people from realising I was homeless was that I had a roof over my head. I had nothing else. No furniture. No nick-knacks. No nothing. I didn’t even have electricity for the first 24 hours I was in my new home. All I did was sit on the floor, sleep on the floor and stare at the ceiling of my new abode. It wasn’t until the Monday after I moved in, five days of being in my new house, was I able to organise for some furniture for this next chapter of my life. Courtesy of a local charity, I was able to obtain a bed, sofa, table, fridge, portable cooler, crockery and cutlery, and moving these items into my new premises was a delightful and (dare I say) orgasmic experience.

No longer would I have to sleep on a hard surface wrapped in disheveled blankets. No longer would I have to sit on a carpeted stone floor. No longer would I have to eat my food like a mindless savage. I could live like other people did.

So why did I spend the next four weeks sleeping on the floor?

The mindset of a homeless man

I had been sleeping rough for nearly three years when I moved into my unit. My bed had been benches. My bed had been patches of grass beneath trees. My bed had been the cold hard concrete beside toilet blocks. All I had for comfort and security were my blankets. I had no mattress. I had no duvet. I had nothing that most people would associate with sleeping comfortably. And throughout it all, complete strangers to me, random people on the street, had continuously hurled comment after critique after insult at me; they had abused me into believing I didn’t deserve to have any of the comforts most ‘normal’ people take for granted. So when I moved into my unit, when I gained a bed that I should have been overjoyed to sleep in, I wasn’t able to enjoy the comfort. I felt I needed to be punished. I felt I didn’t deserve to have a bed. So I didn’t sleep in it.

For four long weeks I slept on the hard, carpeted stone floor next to my bed. It was uncomfortable, to say the least, but the years of abuse had made me believe this was all I deserved. Whenever I thought about venturing into the bed, my mind was quick to rehash all the abuse I had received, it was quick to point out dozens of reasons that I didn’t deserve to sleep in the bed. So I didn’t. I just kept sleeping amidst my assortment of disheveled blankets.

But that wasn’t the worse of it.

On three nights, after moving into my unit, after finally gaining somewhere secure and indoors to sleep, I ventured outside to sleep rough in the park close to where I live. It was because of the abuse I received, it was because of the same reason I slept on the floor; I didn’t feel I deserved anything better. Parks had been my home for years. Parks had been kind to me. They had offered me protection.  So in those early days of ex-homelessness, I returned to the solace of the outdoors to soothe my troubled soul.

I can still remember the day I stopped doing this. I can still remember the moment that I decided, finally, that I should start sleeping in my bed. It was late one balmy summer’s night, the heat had been suffocating me all day and I was dead-tired after four weeks of little to no sleep. All I wanted was to sleep through the night. All I wanted was comfort. Was security. All I wanted was to feel loved. So after tossing and turning on the floor for several hours, unable to get comfortable on the hard, carpeted stone, I threw my blankets aside, rose up and jumped onto the bed. It felt weird. It felt wrong. It felt anything but natural. But I stayed there, curling up into the mattress, covering myself with the duvet, and almost instantly fell asleep.

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My bed, and improvised bedside table, circa 2012.

From that moment on something must have tripped in my mind, for the next night I immediately went to the bed, rather than the floor. And the night after that. And the night after that. I never slept on the floor again. I never ventured outside to sleep in the park. My days of homelessness, of lack of comfort, of not-sleeping rough, were over. I had a home. And, finally, I had a bed.

The Meaning of Life

When you are homeless your life revolves around one thing; survival. Everything you do. Everything moment of your life is about that one thing. It is about surviving the minute, surviving the hour, surviving the night. You don’t have time to do anything else. You don’t have the energy to do anything else. You sleep with a weapon close to your body in case someone assaults you during the night. You find somewhere to stow your bags during the day, hoping that your hiding place will be good enough to keep them hidden. You fill your time with pointless activities, such as reading newspapers at the library, or the odd spot of begging on the street. Everything you do becomes about survival. Everything you do revolves around keeping you safe. You don’t have conversations with people out of fear they will abuse you; and they often will. You don’t do anything that ‘normal’ people do, such as work, such as meet for drinks, such as kill time with friends. All you do is survive the minute, survive the hour, survive the night.

But when you get a home. When you finally succeed in doing what everyone has been telling you to do; to get off the streets. What do you do?

My life was no longer about survival; I had a roof over my head, I had access to cooking facilities, I had space and time to do what I pleased.

But I did nothing.

For three long months I did absolutely nothing but stare at the walls, stare at the ceiling, stare at the floor, and go slowly insane in my ‘home’. I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything. And even if I could have mustered the energy I didn’t know what to do. My life had been about the same thing for so long, my life had revolved around survival for so many years, that now I didn’t have to survive – now that I could live – I didn’t know what to do. I read some books. I read some more books. I twiddled my thumbs. I didn’t have a television so I couldn’t watch TV. I didn’t have a computer so I couldn’t surf the internet. I had nothing to do but stare at the walls and wile my hours away.

And it was boring; really, totally, unimaginably boring.

What saved me was my counselor. For months I had been seeing him to deal with my gambling issues. Every week, without fail, I would venture down the road and spend an hour discussing ‘life’ with my counselor. We would talk about what I had done (nothing), what I wanted to do (something) and what I had been doing for the last few years (surviving). We talked about how difficult it was to live after spending so long surviving. How people don’t understand how difficult it is to learn how to live again after being homeless for so long. People seem to think that you get a house and everything is better; but we talked about how this wasn’t the case. How it’s not as simple as that. How difficult ‘life’ is after feeling like death for so many years.

Then, out of the blue, he phoned me one afternoon. The organisation he worked for was upgrading their computer system and there was a PC going free, if I wanted it. I leapt at the opportunity immediately and within days he was bringing me a computer. All I had to do was obtain a copy of Windows and it would be good to go. This was achieved with a phone call to my parents, who tracked down a free copy courtesy of a contact they had. Weeks later it arrived in the mail, the disc was inserted into the drive and within an hour it was up and running.

And the first thing I did was type in a website address: http://www.wordpress.com.

My blog had saved me once before. My blog had given me direction when all had felt lost once before. Hopefully, it would do it again.

After months of feeling lost; after months of doing nothing; after months of nearly giving up; I had found hope again.

The first year

Being homeless had been one of the most brutal, unforgiving, periods of my life. There had been little pleasure. There had been little joy. What there had been was days of endless, incessant abuse; weeks of non-sleeping on concrete floors; months doing nothing but survive; and years feeling like a sub-human animal, an entity that deserved nothing but punishment and pain.

Getting my unit had taken time. It had taken energy. It had taken a huge amount of hard, dedicated work.

But finally I was able to start living again.

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My lounge room, about ten months after moving into my unit.

It wasn’t easy. It never is. That’s what people don’t understand. They think that getting an apartment, obtaining a home, is the be all and end all of homelessness. That if you just give a homeless person a home that will see their life sorted completely. But it isn’t as simple as that. Homelessness is all-consuming; it affects every aspect of your life, it affects your ability to live. Your life, when homeless, is nothing. It is beyond nothing. You are nothing.

After homelessness you not only have to learn how to live again, you have to learn that you deserve to live again.

Without my counselor, without his sage like advice and dedication toward helping me, there is a good chance I would have left my home and returned to life on the streets. It would have been easy for me to do, really easy. On the streets my life was sorted; it was all about survival. I didn’t have to worry about bills. I didn’t have to worry about what to cook, what to do or how to fill my day, because all of that is decided when you’re homeless. You don’t have choice. You have nothing but yourself.

But I was determined to live again. I was determined to learn how to live again. And with my counselor’s help I was able to get there. It took time, very nearly a year, but I was finally able to get to a place where I felt comfortable in my home, where I felt I deserved to have a bed and was able to fill my days with useful, worthwhile activities.

My time on the streets was in the past; and my future lay ahead of me.

But it wouldn’t have been without the support I’d received from my counselor. Without my counselor I would have ditched my unit, packed a bag and returned to life on the streets. That’s what people don’t understand. That’s what people need to start understanding. Giving a homeless person a home will not fix their problems. It will do nothing but give them a roof over their head. What homeless people need, what homeless people deserve, is support. Someone who will listen to their issues, understand the complexity of the problem, and assist them to start living again.

Fortunately, I had someone to help me. But not everyone does.

The solution to homelessness isn’t just housing; the solution to homelessness is continuous, professional support.

And people need to start understanding that for anything to change.

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Reflections on being homeless, Part 8

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 in between. I attempted suicide, lost all sense of reality and learned to both despise and love this world.

In this series I am 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. Some memories are stronger than others, some more painful than others whilst some have been blocked completely.

Today, the end of my homelessness nears…

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS
| PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7 |

Christmas Under Canvas (Days 898 – 903)

It was the Salvation Army who helped me get a tent. After years of having no shelter, having something that resembled a ‘home’ was a totally new experience for me. Seeking some security for the Christmas period I checked into a campsite (paying somewhat extortionate fees for the experience) and pitched my new home amidst a sea of caravans and cabins.

I can remember this Christmas more clearly than virtually any other during my homeless experience. I can remember curling up in my blankets on a chilly Christmas Eve, rain pouring onto the canvas above my head, reading Ben Elton’s Past Mortem. I can remember being thankful for my tent during such a vicious storm, having been drenched by so many of them in the past two years. I can remember vividly attending a locally run Christmas Lunch for people in need; how succulent the turkey tasted, how the vegetables melted in my mouth, how the custard smothered the Christmas Pudding. And I can remember how bizarre it was that a local journalist interviewed me for a piece in the local newspaper, which featured one of the few photographs taken of me during the last seven years.

The rain lasted well into Boxing Day, and I sheltered from it reading more books under the cover of my tent; Jason Pinter’s The Stolen, Frank Perretti’s Monster and Robin Bowles’ Justice Denied. However lonely I felt, however lost I was, being able to hide from the world for the first time in years was a prize I relished. It had provided me with a truly relaxing Christmas period; a period that I will remember always as being one of the highlights of my homeless experience.

But as with everything in my life, such peace was not to last long, for by New Year my recent Marcus Kelman interlude rose its ugly head and drove me to turn to alcohol for the first time since becoming homeless in 2009.

My last suicide attempt (Day 907)

The last time I attempted suicide was on the 30 December 2011. I had spent much of the day sitting in my tent drinking through several bottles of wine before deciding to ‘go for a walk’ (read: stagger) very late in the evening. Not knowing the locale all that well, I meandered along a couple of roads, discovered a cemetery and then stumbled upon a railway line. Given my inebriated state, I don’t recall the moment that I decided my action, I just remember thinking that if I laid down on the railway line sooner or later a train would come and dismember me as I slept. So I positioned myself over the sleepers and, after a while, allowed myself to drift off to sleep knowing that it would be one I would unlikely wake from.

So when I woke up the next morning, several hours later, I was deeply surprised that I was still intact let alone breathing. Realising that I had failed once again I got up, shook myself down, had a quick vomit and began to slowly make my way back to my tent.

It wasn’t until several days later that I learnt the flaw behind my ‘train will hit me as I sleep’ reasoning; the train-line I had slept on was no longer in operation, replaced instead by one a couple of kilometres away.

New Year, New Outlook (Days 909 – 939)

Having spent another New Year homeless, lost and isolated, I vowed to myself as the calendar turned to 2012 that this would be the final New Year I would spend homeless. Sitting in the cemetery watching the fireworks blaze up around the town I realised that I had to syphon what little hope I had left (which at this point wasn’t much) into trying to find a way off the streets. I couldn’t handle another boarding house, so I knew it would have to be my own place, however difficult and impossible this seemed.

By now I was slowly starting to get to know the new town I had found myself in – Wodonga – and decided that I should return to applying for private rentals. Early in my homelessness I had spent many hours applying for such apartments and rental units, all to no avail, but thought that being in a smaller town may prove more fruitful in my search.

Thus, shortly after New Year, I began applying for whatever property I could reasonably afford. I spent my days scouring the local paper, visiting real estate agents and trundling along to viewings. I submitted application after application, all the while hoping that someone would take pity on the life of a homeless wretch and honour him with the opportunity to prove he was more than capable of renting his own property.

After a couple of weeks with no luck my initial flourish of activity began to fade. There were only so many affordable units in such a small town and with nothing offered to me so far I began to realise it was doubtful anything would be.

One of the main problems with being homeless is that most of society pigeon-hole you into the ‘no chance’ category. You’re not considered for rental properties in the same way that someone who works is because you are viewed as being no longer ‘part of society’. It’s the same mentality that governs work and friendship; it is much easier to find work and make new friends when you already have work and friends, because otherwise people wonder what’s wrong with you. Instead of being considered for my merits, people would have seen my homelessness (not helped by the recent newspaper article) and tossed my application aside.

So after three or four weeks I gave up and began spending what little money I had in the local pokie venues.

The thrall of light and sound

My first foray into the world of gambling in Australian pokie venues occurred in the months after my breakdown in 2007. It was a means of escaping from the pain and trauma that was happening to me. I would take a small amount of money and spend hours losing myself to the sights and sounds of the various machines, relishing each small victory and cursing every major defeat. I knew it was something I should not be doing, but it was the only joy I had during such a painful and destructive time.

So it came as little surprise to me that, after weeks of trying to obtain secure accommodation to no avail, that I would turn to old habits to ease my pain. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is something I’m glad happened, for it led to me contact a gambling help line, who referred me to a local counselling service and, for the first time in years, I began seeing a counsellor who I slowly began to open up to about everything that was happening to me.

This counsellor helped me realise that I shouldn’t give up on applying for rental properties. That although my life had been fraught with pain and devastation for longer than most could deal with, it didn’t always have to be like that.

The phone call (Day 957)

I was sitting in the local library, reading the daily newspaper, when my mobile phone rang. Usually the phone only rang during the evening, when my parents would call from the UK, so at first I thought something catastrophic had happened at home that had forced them to call in the middle of the night (their time). But it wasn’t. The person at the end of the phone worked for a local real estate company and their message was simple; my application had been approved and I could move into my own unit, just so long as I paid them the bond and two weeks rent in advance.

At first I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was someone’s sick idea of humour. But a visit to the real estate agent proved these fears untrue. All that work, all those years of hardship, all those 957 days of pain and torment would soon be over.

The Last Days of Homelessness (Days 958 – 960)

Kindly, my parents and relatives helped organise the bond and rent that I needed to secure the accommodation. They, like me, were overwhelmed with the chance I had been given and knew that I couldn’t pass it up. I spent much of the next three days lost in a mist of productivity; organising money transfers, signing forms, paying money, smirking like a lunatic hyped up on some form of illegal narcotic. And by the Thursday (trust me, it was definitely a Thursday – the 23rd February in fact) everything was sorted and I could move into my new unit.

Walking into the building for the first time, tossing my meagre possessions to the carpet and closing the door behind me, are all memories that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. After years of living in parks, alleys, boarding houses and hovels, I had a place that was ‘mine’; a roof that was ‘mine’; a home that was ‘mine’.

With no furniture I slept on the floor that night, overwhelmed with the week’s events and unable to process the results of my hard (hard) work. I remember a phone call from my dad waking me up and I just told him it was over; I had moved in and everything had worked out.

The relief in his voice was palpable.

A new life (Day 1…)

Home

~ Home ~

 


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Reflections on being homeless, Part 7

In early 2012 I began a series that looked back on my homeless experience. This series began from when I found myself sleeping rough in August 2009, continued through my boarding house nightmares and ended with me still living on the streets of Melbourne in 2011.

There were several reasons why I stopped the story there, primarily because I discovered that writing about this period of my life was immensely difficult; the traumas too recent, the pain too raw for me to adequately deal with. But there was also a more simple reason; I had no idea how to tackle what happened next in the story of my life.

And I still don’t.

For what happened next is something I’ve never told anyone. Not psychiatrists, support workers, counselors or family…no matter how trusted they are. And the reason I never told anyone is simple; I have no idea what was happening, why it was happening or how people would react if they found out.

For this is the story of Marcus Kelman*.

-●-

I need a hug! (Day 682)

On the 21st June 2011 I sat in a small alley near Southern Cross station. It was drizzling with rain. I was tired, exhausted, confused and in desperate need of a hug.

It had been a long and emotional weekend, partly because of the far-too-obvious ending to A Good Man Goes To War, mostly because reminders of my past life were everywhere I turned; my Sunday ritual had prompted a smile followed by a panic attack; a walk down a random street had flustered me with un-needed memories and I discovered something that forced me off of a website I had grown to love.

As I sat in that damp, cold alley, I talked to my father on the phone and he decided enough was enough and, after leaving me and my bag to find somewhere safe to sleep for the night (my old park, for the first time in many months), he sent some emails.

Huh?

When I woke the next morning I was lying on rain-soaked grass staring up at a cavalcade of fluffy white clouds. I could make out the sounds of distant traffic, the morning chorus of bird-song and the incessant screeching of a never-discovered species of insect. My whole body ached as if it had just run a dozen marathons and my two bags were carefully hidden beneath the single brown blanket I was using as cover.

I knew from the geography of the park that I had woken up somewhere other than where I’d fallen asleep…I just had no idea where or how I’d come to be there.

By now I was well and truly set in a morning ritual. I rose from the grass, neatly folded up my blanket and stuffed it into one of my bags. After tidying up the rest of my possessions I walked around the park I didn’t recognise, found a spot in which to stash my blanket-bag and then rolled a cigarette from the collection of butts I found in my pocket. As the nicotine burned my throat I realised that I didn’t recognise anything. Not a tree, bush or blade of grass was familiar. So, in order to find out where I was, I followed the sounds of traffic to the nearest road and meandered the streets until I found a railway station; Fairfield.

But that didn’t make any sense. I had lived in Fairfield with Louise for over three years. I knew every street, every alley and every park; especially those within walking distance of the train station.

It wasn’t for several more minutes that it dawned on me; I wasn’t in Victoria, I was in New South Wales.

This revelation completely floored me. But not as much as the next piece of information that shouted its way into my mind courtesy of a discarded newspaper; it was October.

So not only was I in a suburb of a city that I detested, some several hundred miles from Melbourne, I had no recollection of the previous three and a half months.

Desperately in need of answers – and with no-one I could ask to get them – I turned to the only thing I could think of; my backpack. It was the same bag I’d had when I was in Melbourne so if anything was going to contain answers, this would be it.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the writers of Lost had taken hold of my possessions, for the only things I discovered in my backpack (besides dirty clothing, a stench that would knock you on your ass and a fly swatter) were several A4 sized note-books; all of them displaying the name Marcus Kelman.

All of them in my handwriting.

So having nothing better to do, I read them all.

The life (and times) of Marcus Kelman

Marcus Kelman was born on the 28th November 1978 in the Scottish city of Inverness. He grew up not far from this city, in the town of Nairn with his mother, step-father and step-sister. His childhood was a relatively tame and uneventful affair, marked with mischievous behavior and a close friendship with his best friend, Natalie. In his teenage years this friendship became something more and, for several years the two of them built a rewarding relationship. However, the relationship would not last and, after it ended abruptly, he left his hometown and began working in Inverness. After saving every spare penny he could he decided to travel, gallivanting around Scotland, the UK and Europe before heading to Northern America for a jaunt across Canada, where he would meet the love of his life, Joanne.

After eighteen months living in domestic bliss, he and Joanne returned to the UK and began living in his home-city of Inverness. They became engaged, moved into their dream house and, shortly after, discovered she was pregnant. However, several months into the pregnancy tragedy fell when Joanne lost her battle with depression and committed suicide, killing both herself and their baby.

Marcus inevitably spiraled into a deep depression. For months he isolated himself, refusing contact with everyone, until his cousin stepped in and set him off on the long road to recovery.

After realising there was no future for him in Scotland, Marcus decided to emigrate to Australia to start afresh, where he worked a series of hospitality and retail jobs until he suffered a relapse in his mental health and ended up homeless.

Putting the pieces together (Day 828)

In spite of some obvious differences, anyone who has had even a cursory glance around this blog will realise the similarities between my life and Marcus’s are plentiful: his birth day, the Scottish connection, the relationship with a girl named ‘Natalie’ (his school-hood crush), the travelling, the time he spent in Canada (where he fell in love), the tragedies of mental health, suicide and homelessness.

Also eminently noticeable is the high level of wish-fulfillment between my life and Marcus’s; such as the teenage friendships, domestic bliss, marriage, the dream house and becoming a father.

Even though I was confused, exhausted and distressed, I was determined to discover as much about Marcus Kelman as I could, for it was the only way I could think of that may reveal my actions of the previous few months. So I headed to an internet café and began logging into his blogs and email, the addresses for which I had found squirreled away in his notebooks:

  • For the previous few months he had been writing three blogs about his life and observations.
  • He had been in regular email contact with several people.
  • He was the owner (and user) of a Twitter account.
  • He had been in contact with people from my past.
    and
  • For nearly three months he had been in almost daily phone contact with someone in Sydney.

Even though it could have been a revelatory experience, one that could have helped put all the missing pieces together; I decided not to phone this person. Instead, I read every single blog post, every single email and every single tweet, finally coming to a number of conclusions:

  • People seemed to like Marcus Kelman.
  • People seemed to lust after Marcus Kelman.
  • He was a better, and more varied writer, than I.
  • He had more followers on Twitter than I’ve ever had.
    and
  • He genuinely felt like a ‘real’ person.

By the time I left the internet café I was exhausted. Whatever ‘Marcus’ had been doing for three months had left me physically spent, whilst the revelations of the day had eroded what little mental energy I had left.

It was one of those situations where there were more questions than answers: where had Marcus come from? Why had I become Marcus? What other things had he been doing that I didn’t know about? Was I finally completely losing my mind? How could I tell anyone about what had been happening? What the hell was happening?

These questions – and many more besides – plagued me through a sleepless night, and the only conclusion I came to was a simple one; I had to get as far away from Fairfield as was possible.

As far away from Fairfield as was possible (Day 831)

After a distressed (and ultimately futile) phone-call to Lifeline, I hiked into the middle of the Australian bush and spent several hours having a meltdown. Once I was fresh out of tears, I pulled my belt from my jeans, wound it round my neck and attempted to hang myself.

Alas, because this belt had been with me for the entire duration of my homelessness, I had failed to realise how threadbare it had become and, after a few seconds, it snapped in two and sent me cascading back to the hard, thirsty earth.

Dazed and Confused (Day 832 – 898)

For the next two months I was lost; physically, mentally and emotionally. As the Marcus Kelman months hung over my head, demanding explanation, I roamed the Australian bush. Eventless days were spent in small towns, big towns and nation’s capitols. Parks and alleys were slept in, soup-van produce and discarded scraps consumed. What little energy I had left was spent trying to solve the conundrum of Marcus.

Unlike the bipolar, unlike the PTSD, unlike even the social anxiety, I had no explanation for what had happened during the months I’d been Marcus Kelman. I was in entirely new (and entirely terrifying) territory. So, despite several appointments with mental health services, psychologists and psychiatrists, I told no-one about my alter-ego. Not because I feared they would lock me up and throw away the key, but because I feared they would think I had manifested this character intentionally; which I did not.

So, like my homelessness, like my everything, I decided the only safe thing to do was deal with this problem on my own.

By now I had become incredibly tired of sleeping in parks so acquired a tent and retired beneath the canvas to contemplate my past, my present and my future. For on that 22nd December – the anniversary of Samantha’s death – my life felt utterly (and completely) out of control.

Little did I know then that the end of my homelessness was only a few months away.

-●-

This post has been one of the hardest to write since the early days of my blog back in 2007. Admitting that, for a period of months I became someone else; someone completely fictitious yet close enough to me to be noticeable, someone who maintained relationships with real (unsuspecting) individuals is tantamount to admitting I am completely (and utterly) insane.

I know people will immediately think that I’m making this up; that I created Marcus Kelman intentionally. But I did not. The only explanation I’ve come up with is that I became Marcus as a way to dissociate from what was happening to me. That – following the weekend of triggers in June 2011 – my brain decided it needed to become someone else in order to feel safe.

Hopefully by writing this post I am taking the first step toward piecing together the confusing events of the most baffling chapter of my life.

* Please note that I have changed the name of the person I became to protect myself and the innocent.

 


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World Homeless Day: Thirteen ways you can help the homeless

In addition to being World Mental Health Day, today is also World Homeless Day; a day to draw attention to homeless people’s needs and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness.

To celebrate World Homeless Day 2013, I have decided to share thirteen ways in which you can help the homeless, most drawn from the five-years I spent as a person experiencing homelessness. This way, you have no excuse for not helping a homeless person on this most necessary (and often forgotten) of days! :)

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My ‘home’, circa 2010 | © Addy

1.  Educate yourself about homelessness
One of the first – and best – things you can do to help the homeless is find out who they really are. They may be someone who has lost their job, someone who is suffering from mental health problems or someone escaping an abusive relationship. They are rarely, if ever, the stereotype of the alcoholic-junkie who has chosen to be homeless that many people continue to believe in.

2. Donate money
This can either be given directly to a homeless person, or preferably via a charitable organisation whose soul aim is to assist the homeless. This money will then be used to provide food, clothing, emergency shelter and other necessary items, all of which go a long way to helping a homeless person on a day-to-day basis.

3. Give food
If a homeless person is asking you for money for food, why not offer to buy them a sandwich or some other foodstuff instead? It is a misconception that every beggar is looking for money for alcohol or drugs, many are simply hungry and will all-too-happily take you up on your generous offer. And remember: if you offer someone a ‘big mac’ and they refuse, they may not be lying to get money out of you, they may simply be a vegetarian or someone who doesn’t like red-meat (see item 12, below)

4.Donate clothing
Never underestimate the importance of a clean pair of socks or deliciously warm jacket. If you’re not comfortable donating money or food, why not donate clothing (or some new pairs of socks) to your local homeless organisation. These are items that are always required and will be most gratefully received.

5. Donate groceries
Homeless charities are always looking for donations of good quality, non-perishable foodstuffs. So why not organise a bag or box and donate them to your local food bank? Better yet, if you work for a food manufacturer, perhaps consider organising a regular donation to assist those most in need.

6. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or soup van
Virtually every major town and city in the world has a soup kitchen or van of some description. Why not take a few hours out of your week to volunteer at one (or both) of these. You’ll not only be nourishing a homeless person’s stomach, but nourishing their soul with your kindness.

7. Buy the Big Issue (or if you’re in the US, Street Sheet)
These magazines are sold by homeless people in virtually every major city. As well as being a cracking read, a percentage of every issue sold goes directly to the homeless person selling them. What could be better than that?

8. Organise a fund-raising event
Why not organise a charity event through your local school or business to help raise funds for your local homeless services. Car boot sales, raffles, trivia nights or cake stalls are always well received by the community, even more so when people know their time and money is going toward such a worthwhile cause.

9. Volunteer your services
Are you a doctor? Lawyer? Dentist? Psychiatrist? A homeless person may require some or all of these services, so why not donate your time to offer your professional services to those who are most in need of it?

10. Educate yourself as to what services are available in your area
Every town and city have organisations whose specific aim is to assist the homeless. If you were to find out where these organisation were and how they helped (i.e. whether it is with food, emergency housing, counseling etc.) you will be able to pass this on to a homeless person as and when the situation arises. Remember, just because they are homeless does not mean they are aware of all the services available to them. Some may just need a helping hand to get their life together again.

11. Don’t ignore a homeless person
Walking past a homeless person and pretending they are not there is cold, callous and shows them a complete lack of respect. Simply acknowledging their presence will be showing them a level of respect that they rarely, if ever, receive.

12. Treat a homeless person as the unique individual they are
Many people continually refer to homeless people as the homeless; a term that strips them off their uniqueness as a human being. A homeless person is just like you, your friends or family members. They have loves, passions, hopes, dreams, aspirations and everything else in between. So why not treat them as the unique and wonderful human being they are?

13. Talk to them
Quite possibly the simplest item on this list, but is still the one many people forget about. A homeless person is not only starved of food and shelter, they are also starved of human contact. The simple act of talking to them will most likely make their day in ways you couldn’t even begin to imagine! :)

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This moment – which saw me realise a life-long dream of hugging a wombat – was taken the same day as the photograph above. It would never have happened without the kindness of the wombat’s keeper, who treated me like a unique individual instead of just another one of ‘the homeless’, | © Addy

A selection of other articles I’ve written about homelessness:


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Is there such a thing as the ‘privileged poor’?

pleasekeepourstreetsclean

“Which brings us to the other side effect of our collective crying poor: it makes it easier to look past the struggles of those who are genuinely struggling.”

Over the years I’ve written quite a bit about my pet peeves – and the endless complaining of the ‘privileged poor’ is definitely one of them!

This article, from Australia’s The Age newspaper, is beautifully written and ends with a truth that few people acknowledge:

Is there such a thing as the ‘privileged poor’?
by Rachel Hills

Have you ever sheepishly backed out of a social engagement because you’re “too poor”? Taken to Twitter to vent about how broke your Master’s degree/recent overseas trip/great-for-party-conversation-but-not-exactly-financially-lucrative career has left you? Complained to friends over red wine and camembert about how difficult it is to pay for private school, a mortgage and a cricket club membership, and still take your annual holiday?

Congratulations. You may be a member of Australia’s privileged poor, the growing portion of the middle (and upper-middle, and even occasionally upper) class who believe they are doing it tough despite being socially, economically and educationally privileged in every way.

The privileged poor can take a number of guises. They might be a student who subsists on Centrelink payments and unpaid internships, but still has their rent, food and phone bills paid by mum and dad, Lena Dunham-style on Girls. They might be a twentysomething graduate who earns less than their lawyer and banker friends, but who still has enough cash on hand to eat out, keep abreast of the latest technology, and zip home in a taxi when the train is tardy. They might be a small-business owner taking in $120,000 a year, but who feels like they don’t have much left over to play with once the bills have been paid.

What they all have in common is that they are not actually “poor” – at least, not in the conventional sense of the word. In fact, by most people’s standards, they’re pretty well off. They just don’t feel like they are.

Continue reading “Is there such a thing as the ‘privileged poor’?” (via The Age)


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This is home…

After much cursing, switching it off and on again, more cursing, hurling it across the room, even more cursing and promising to take it out for dinner and a movie…the camera on my phone finally decided to start working this weekend!

I think it may have had something to do with promising she would definitely get lucky at the culmination of the promised date, but not knowing much about the inner working of a phone’s mind, who knows what the problem was!

As a result, I can now show you my home. Aren’t you lucky people? :)

In order for you to have something to compare it to – plus show you how far I’ve come/how bloody hard I’ve worked – let’s first take a look at where I used to live.

Where I used to live… (circa 2010)

Where I live now… (circa present day)

My lounge room…

My bedroom…

My Kitchen…

I decided not to show you the bathroom. It’s a wholly unexciting room that contains a toilet (we’ve all seen one of those), a shower (we’ve all seen one of those, although some people seem to need lessons in how they work), a sink (it’s white, and well, a sink) and the linoleum floor is even harder to clean than the kitchen’s is!

Yes, I’m fully aware I live in a place that most people would describe as “dodgy”, hell, I’ve used far worse words than that over the months! But you know what? I really don’t care. Compared to where I used to live this is heaven; I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, my own toilet, a freaking awesome doona cover and a bread board that would deliver a helluva whack should I ever need to defend myself.

This is home, and no matter what anyone thinks of it, it’s a darn site better than living on the street :)

Sorry, couldn’t resist. I’ll seize any opportunity to visit Narnia :p Plus, it’s kinda apt!

 


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Anti-Poverty Week: Poverty in Australia, a national disgrace

We set ourselves this first goal: by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty.
~ Bob Hawke (launching the ALP’s election policy, 23 June 1987) ~

575,000 children or 17.3% are living below the poverty line
~ ACOSS report into poverty in Australia, 14 October 2012 ~

Earlier today I spent four hours writing a post about what it is like to live in poverty. I deleted it following a disagreement with a hallucination over the validity of two sentences. And yes, I’m more than aware of how that sounds! Why do you think I live in poverty?

Yesterday, the Australian Council of Social Services released a report that revealed 2,265,000 Australians are living in poverty. For every eight people there is one who is struggling to make ends meet and survive in a country that doesn’t care about them.

And if you think that is being over-the top:

Last week the Australian government changed their policy regarding single-parenting payments. This change will force an estimated 100,000 people onto the (already impossible to survive on) Newstart Allowance. This will reduce their overall benefit by at least $65 a week and increase the criteria they need to meet in order to receive payments; apply for so many jobs per week, attend regular personal contact interviews with Centrelink, attend regular appointments with Job Service Providers, perform numerous somersaults through flaming hoops as and when required by the Australian Government with no thought to the cost and availability of childcare in Australia.

For years, the Australian Government has steadfastly refused to increase the Newstart Allowance (which has not seen an increase in real terms since 1994) despite overwhelming support from social services, charities and homeless providers. It is currently undergoing a parliamentary enquiry.

Last year, the Australian Government implemented new Impairment guidelines in an effort to reduce the number of Disability Pension recipients. The new guidelines meant that “four out of every 10 people who qualified for the Disability Support Pension earlier this year [2011] would not qualify under the new regime”. Thus, forcing mentally and physically ill individuals to fund their treatment on the (already impossible to survive on) Newstart Allowance.

Why is all of this happening? From the point of view of someone living in poverty;

a) To ensure a budget surplus to please the voters (who matter) ahead of the 2013 election.

b) Because poverty is something that the voters (who matter) don’t understand.

c) Because poverty is a problem that requires a university-level education to fix and the current crop of Australian politicians dropped out of the education system after graduating kindergarten.

My journey into the world of poverty began in 2007 following a breakdown, serious physical health problems and multiple forms of abuse. In an eighteen month period I received no income (including benefits) and had to sell my worldly possessions in order to survive. For the three years between March 2007 – March 2010, I received seven months of income.

Since 2010 I have been existing on the Newstart allowance, with nothing to my name bar a few clothes and assorted oddments. The sole value of my assets is approximately $50 (a figure Centrelink deemed “too low” so rounded it up to $500 on their system)

In these two years I have had to balance serious mental illness (Bipolar, PTSD and severe social anxiety), physical illness and homelessness. I have had to regularly choose between accommodation, food and medication. On one occasion I had to choose between accommodation and eyewear (I chose to repair my glasses as without them, I’m blind). I am able to purchase clothes once a year; repairing the three T-shirts, two shirts and one pair of jeans I own as best I can. I have become so adept at fixing shoes with cardboard and glue I firmly believe I’m descended from Elves.

Yet through all this I’ve had to endure ill-informed abuse from Australian society, large swathes of which believe I am a lazy, good for nothing, dole bludger who deliberately chooses not to work so as to sustain my rich lifestyle courtesy of the hard-done by taxpayers. All of whom believe raising the Newstart Allowance will discourage people from looking for work as the current low payment acts as an incentive to find gainful employment.

Yet never has anyone been able to explain to me why someone willingly chooses to live $130 below the poverty line (at the current rate of the Newstart Allowance)

I have written in the past of the inadequacy of this benefit. Asking obvious questions that have yet to be sufficiently answered, such as: how does someone find a job when they can’t afford to keep a roof over their head, get a haircut or buy essential clothing, shoes, hygiene products or medication? The reality is the current rate of Newstart is acting as a disincentive to find work as it is impossible for a person to improve their own circumstances whilst entrenched in a ‘life’ of housing stress, financial insecurity and social isolation.

In the last two and a half years, although my housing situation has improved, my mental stability is now lower than it has ever been in my entire life, and yet because of rent, bills and food I cannot afford to run the heater when it’s cold or a fan if it’s too hot. I have to endlessly watch my electricity use, remembering to switch everything off before I go to bed in fear of exploding bills. I can’t go anywhere social. I can’t use public transport. I can’t even afford to fill the three urgent prescriptions I’ve had stuck to my fridge for the last two weeks. If I did, I would have to starve myself for the week and/or render myself at-risk of homelessness through non-payment of rent.

This is the life of someone living in poverty. These are the choices people in poverty have to make every day.

I’m not writing this post for pity or sympathy. In all honesty I actually have it better than most.

I (currently) have a roof over my head and although I haven’t had three meals a day since early 2007, I normally have enough food to eat a basic meal each day, even if it is just a tin of baked bins, bowl of rice or pasta, two-minute noodles or the occasional treat (once a month) of meat and fresh fruit/vegetables courtesy of the food bank.

Although it’s tough, with careful budgeting I’m able to save a dollar or two a week for a ‘treat’ every three/four months (such as a cinema outing, second-hand DVD or presents for family) and I continue to donate small amounts to charitable causes because you have to help people who are worse off than you.

In late 2009 I was sitting in a park in Melbourne with a choice to make. I could either kill myself or accept that my life was never going to get any better than this. For if I allowed myself to dream of a better future, just for a second, the pain would have torn me apart. With the intervention of a homeless man, I chose the latter.

But that ‘decision’ is something I should never have had to make. No-one should be forced to choose between suicide and a life of continuous pain and misery, but people are having to make that choice every single day.

In a country as rich and prosperous as Australia, it is a national disgrace that 12.8% of the population is ‘living’ in poverty. But this anti-poverty week Australians shouldn’t be ashamed of themselves, nor should they be engaging in a ‘debate’ over this issue.

They should be committing themselves to rectify this disgrace once and for all.