In 2013, I became homeless. Before this I was very secure with two children who were both about to finish school. Then when the marriage broke up and I was the odd one out. That was really hard because the children and I had been really close. We had to be close in the household, and so it was really hard to not be there for important things. My daughter was in grade 12, so she was just finishing school. My son was at university. Then my daughter got married, and I wasn’t really part of her preparation, which as a mother, I should be.
Sometimes you need to separate yourself to find out who you are. I guess I had to go through that as well.
It was really hard, because to work out who I was I needed to get rid of all the negative influences over my life. I was growing differently and I wasn’t conforming to what people thought I was. So, a lot of people close to me thought I should be crazy because I was coming out of a bit of a mess.
My son became engaged and he was married in December 2013. I wasn’t a part of it. I wasn’t even invited to the wedding, so it was a real separation. It was heartbreaking because these things are only a one-off opportunity.
One in seven homeless Australians are 55 years or older
A third of people over 55 are living on less than $400 a week
Between 2011 and 2016, the proportion of older people who were homeless increased.
Older people living in severely crowded dwellings increased to 44 per cent in 2016, from 35 per cent in 2001.
I guess I knew it had to happen and I had some good positive people around me at that stage. I used to have a conversation with a friend every evening. This evening, I phoned him and he told me his news for the day. I said,“Now,have you finished?” He said,“Yeah.” I said,“I just came home and the house is empty. I can’t get in and I wasn’t sure what would happen next.”
My first step to finding a place to stay was a room in Sunnybank and the bedroom was 10 meters from a six lane highway that sounded like planes taking off every few minutes. So I didn’t sleep for a little while.
I did have a roof over my head for a while. One time I stayed at the back of a shop, but I was inside the shop, not outside. And then, I used to hitch every weekend up to Hervey Bay to see my mother who was in aged care up there. She’d been shifted from Beaudesert so I would sleep out up there on the TAFE college veranda, in a park or even in the facility grounds.
It was very isolating. I have two sisters, but I didn’t see them. So it wasn’t just my children I lost. It was my siblings as well. I guess further than that was the cousins. Then in 2015, mum died and that made a big impact on my life. One more connection gone, and a feeling of loss to deal with. This was when I realised that I needed to find a connection with other people, other people that were by themselves.
After this I realised I needed to find places in Brisbane where I felt safe at night. In Brisbane, there are people around, so you’re always a bit alert at night. I used to stay close to Musgrave Park in a spot that was probably only about six foot from the footpath. People would walk past all the time but I could hear people coming because of their steps on the bitumen or the talking, I just had to not move. Wherever you are, you hear different noises, so you’re sort of alert. You don’t know always what the noises are.
I never slept with other people and I would walk further than most people to find a place where I could stay. There’s been some interesting situations where I have stayed. I seem to keep moving further and further from the city because more and more people seem to be sleeping out in the city. It’s interesting because when you’re walking around you think,“Oh,that’d be an all right place to sleep.”
A lot of places I stayed would obviously had been used by others, because at different times I’d found syringes there. I used to go past where I slept before I went in to make sure there was no one else there. One night, there was a couple of people sitting on the steps and I thought,“Oh, what am I going to do here? I thought about it. I thought, no, this is my camp. So I went in and I said,“Okay, you guys. Out of here. This is my camp.” And they just left.
That was in this area. I guess that was a more prominent place, but there’s a lot of noise and flashing lights and sirens all night. But where I go otherwise, it’s generally not as noisy. But sometimes it’s hard to find a place when it’s raining. It’s easy when it’s not raining, but a bit of rain makes it really hard.
I am still sleeping in different spots at the moment. I move around a bit so I can still operate my business selling flowers. It is nice to have a little bit of money for different things but it doesn’t provide enough money to pay for a place to stay. I need to depend on homelessness services around the city and that’s what led me to start getting my clothes washed with Orange Sky.
I can get my sleeping bag and my sleeping gear washed and dried within the hour. So that means that I can wash it and use it the same night. It makes me feel good to be able to do that.
The Musgrave Park shift is a safe place to come to, it’s a regular thing, and it’s consistent. We need consistency. We need routine in our lives, and even if only coming twice a week to here, that’s a plus. At least it’s a start.
I come to the Musgrave Park shifts twice a week and now feel like this is my family. I talk with the volunteers and get to know everyone that attends really well. I think I am known as a bit of a nosy parker, but also think that everyone likes talking to me about what is happening in their lives.
The connection it provides is massive and even if a friend of the service may not be here and a volunteer asked about them I will tell them,“Oh, they asked after you at Orange Sky.” They will then think“Oh, well, I’m just not a nobody. There’s someone that’s thinking about me.” That has to start a value system that,“hey, there is someone that’s thinking about me”. And for people that are separated, that’s a huge thing. And then you see steps that they do to change or to be more connected, and for normal people, that might be so small. But for some of these people, it’s a huge step and you can see changes then.
It’s important for Orange Sky shifts to keep happening, for the vans to keep coming out because that’s the connection. For some people, it may be the only connection that they have. The volunteers come out every time to the different locations and they know the people that are regularly there and they can interact with them. And it’s great that the people that haven’t got families, that are disconnected, have got somewhere that they can go. People can ask them what’s changed, you know, where it’s going, what’s going on and so forth, and build up a relationship with them. The volunteers are so important.
My life is on the up now. I am back in touch with my children and I am working enough to feel like I have some purpose. In those times when things are not gelling, you have to be patient. I knew it would turn around, but you can’t push it. You can’t push it. You’ve just got to wait for it to turn around.
I always find Christmas to be an interesting time of year, especially when I was very disconnected from my family. Everything you see is family related, people celebrating and you don’t see the sad stories. New Year’s Eve is the same. People are out there celebrating, but if you’re not part of a group or society or whatever, you become very disconnected. So to have the services available where people can still come together is great because that’s your connection. That’s your stable and that becomes your family.
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