Chasing Shadows – Nigel’s Story
9 August 2012 at 11:18 am
OPINION: A homeless service in inner Melbourne is proving a lifeline for “Nigel” – a chance to find a way out of a life of despair and return to some normalcy, writes Catherine Garrett, Media Officer at Anglicare Victoria.
It is Homeless Person’s Week. About one hundred thousand people across the country experience homelessness every night. The fastest growing group without shelter are young families.
The chance of succumbing to mental illness while you are homeless is estimated at about 40 per cent according to Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria.
Despite this, some people without shelter would rather sleep on a bench than live in transitional housing, for fear of violence from other residents.
And there is another fear – amongst those working in the welfare and community sectors, that the Rudd government’s commitment to halve homelessness by 2020 is a fast dwindling prospect. The four year funding model for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness runs out next year and there is no clear word on whether the states and Commonwealth will renew or refund it.
But what about the voices of those who are living with the stress and misery of having no place to call home? When do we hear from them about what it's like to have nowhere to sleep, little or no food and no meaningful links with the mainstream?
‘Nigel’ has spent a decade drifting and surviving on little or no cash.
"It would be nice to have somewhere to sleep, somewhere to place my bag. That's my priority. But then so is finding a job. But without a home how do I get a job? And with no work, I can't afford a place.
Any shadow in the dark is a good place to sleep as long as there's no storm. "
Nigel speaks of feeling hopeless and losing his dreams for the future. He says he tries to block the despair and take one day at a time. Sleeping helps. He is 41 and has spent years on the streets alone. Alcohol and drugs provided an escape for a while. But so much time spent by himself and inside his head has made him anxious and at times aggressive. Living this way is hard he says. It is a lonely, scary and uncertain existence.
But he believes there are others with worse psychological problems than he has.
When I meet him, Nigel has had very little money for weeks. His only possessions are three pairs of jeans, two tops, a pair of worn out shoes and a couple of sleeping bags. Home is an asbestos ridden building in Melbourne's inner north. This is poverty.
For life's basics, Nigel drops in at St Mark's Community Centre in Collingwood. It provides everything from food to a phone and laundry facilities and offers a referral service to those who need it.
It is a safe place that is now like home to Nigel.
" It's the best thing I could have done to get me out of myself. This is where my friends are now. I talk with other people and try to be sociable, and that's what's keeping me going. It's helping me out of my shell. I'm ringing up trying for jobs.
“The centre feeds me, gives me tram tickets, and I can wash myself and my clothes here."
This homeless service has proved a lifeline for Nigel – a chance to find a way out of a life of despair and return to some normalcy.
Nigel did not always live this way. After falling out with his family, he left his native New Zealand for a fresh start in Brisbane. He picked up odd jobs cabinet making and laboring but then badly hurt his back and could not get regular work. Ad hoc jobs petered out and Nigel spiraled into poverty and depression.
But today he speaks of trying to change his life. He wants to get back into mainstream society, get a job and move on.
Nigel's situation is a call to action. He tells me he hopes it is not too late. So do I.
Nigel is somebody's son and brother: a person who wants to beat poverty.
This is not how his life was meant to be.