We met Keith on a cold winter morning in Fitzroy where he told us about a “fella in a wheelchair” that he once met on his way to the shops. The man had a sign resting on the floor asking for donations and was also unable to speak. Keith didn’t have money to offer him, but said “good day” to him in sign language (it was one of the few words Keith could remember in sign language – along with all the vowels).

“It just rung with him and he looked like a different fellow altogether because I’d said good day to him. He was really miserable before that,” Keith said.

It was clear to us to that Keith understood the power of connection and the value of a simple conversation to a person experiencing homelessness. He has first hand experience living many years on the streets of Melbourne feeling disconnected from the community.

“I had my own house once and things happened. I got assaulted on the street and it took me two years before I could walk straight again,” he said.

“I lived in parks and things like that but I didn’t stay in the same place every night, I kept on moving around the suburbs. Once I got used to living in that way, it became a way of life. And then the St Vincent’s Hospital [in Melbourne] found out how I was living and they found me a room to live in. It was a great help.”

Being part of a community is important to Keith. He came to Australia from Manchester in 1956 for the Olympic Games, and said he felt “at home” in Melbourne where the architecture was similar to Manchester.

Keith visits the Orange Sky laundry and shower van in Melbourne each week and said that everyone deserves a feeling of connection to the community.
“Since I’ve been in the Fitzroy area, I’ve seen lots of people sitting in doorways late at night, and most people just walk past them and give them a dirty look,” he said.
“I’ve found them to be very interesting people. Many of them have had a really good education, and they’ve had a rough trot in life and have hit the bottom.
“They’re on guard because they’ve had bad experiences, but just by saying hello and giving them a smile and a little chat, their personality comes out that is hidden.”

Keith said he hoped for more understanding across the community for people in tough situations.

“There’s a big gap between people that are right at the bottom end and people that have everything,” he said.

“When you’ve got everything you want and you want more, you’ll have more than you need and you’ll lose sight of other people that are struggling.

“Communication between everyone in the world is a very important thing.”

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