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Finding hope after homelessness

31 July 2020

Finding hope after homelessness

When Adam* heard on the street that his photo was on a wall at The Salvation Army Doorways in Perth, he went in to find out why. His family from overseas hadn’t heard from him in 18 years and had contacted The Salvation Army Family Tracing Service** to find him. There he learned that his parents had died 10 years prior and his siblings had been trying to make contact to tell him ever since.

From that day, Adam, who had been sleeping rough for 17 years, was case managed by the Salvos at Doorways, Perth.

From opportunity to isolation

When Adam arrived in Australia with an engineering degree from his home country, he was ready to take on new opportunities, but soon came to realise his degree wasn’t recognised in Australia. Struggling to find employment, his money began to run out and he was forced to leave his accommodation. While uncertain what to do, he felt he had to make it work.

Adam didn’t want to worry his family and so – believing he had failed – chose not to contact them. Now isolated from loved-ones and a long way from home, he lacked a support network to help him through this tough time.

Living on the streets in Perth, Adam would spend all his time walking around. At the end of the day he would visit Miss Maud’s (a Perth café chain) where he would be given leftover rolls, sandwiches or pies that he would share with others living rough.

“I spent a good two years wandering from place to place looking for a more suitable longer-term hideout to stay,” Adam says.

But one day, while purchasing winter pants with money received from passers-by, Adam noticed a place that looked secluded and hard to get to under a bridge – this was to become his home for 15 years.

Adam would keep the camp site clean and tidy to ensure no one would move him on. All he had in his possession was a satchel bag that carried some papers – including a police report for his stolen passport – and some other items such as scissors and a razor so that he could shave and give himself a haircut.

For 17 years Adam would spend every day at the library reading the paper from his hometown overseas. He liked to know what was going on back "home” but would also keep up to date with the politics of this country. The longer he spent living rough, the more he kept to himself and he was often referred to as "the bird man" as he was known for feeding the birds in the parks and on the streets.

Accepting help was just the beginning

When Adam started attending weekly case management meetings with The Salvation Army Doorways team from 2017, he was reluctant to accept any comfort items, such as a sleeping bag, food, blankets or clothing – he felt the team were doing enough.

After a long process, the Doorways team managed to acquire Adam’s birth certificate. With this they could arrange for a Medicare card, passport, bank account, photo ID and then finally for Adam to receive Centrelink payments after 17 years of no income.

The Doorways team then looked to the Department of Housing and put Adam on a priority listing, but with things moving so quickly Adam began to feel overwhelmed. He needed time to process things and was happy to see out his final summer under the bridge in the hopes of being in a home by winter. So, when a place became available in the area three weeks after going on priority listing, Adam was initially reluctant to take it.

With counselling from his caseworkers Adam was encouraged to accept the housing, but he was still worried about what he would suddenly need to live in a home. The Doorways caseworkers knew that after 15 years living under the bridge it would take Adam a period of time to grieve. The Salvation Army supported him all the way as he undertook the journey of transitioning from rough-sleeping to housing. 

“Through all these things, which were very overwhelming for Adam, he was very proactive with achieving any task given to him and very capable with the support,” says Doorways case worker, Nicola.

When Adam moved into his home in October 2018 the Salvos helped get him a bed, some furniture and other household items.

“He was very overwhelmed with the help we gave,” says Nicola. “He felt others were more in need, but all the while we were reassuring him that he is deserving of our help and support. Things we took for granted – like turning on a light switch, flushing a toilet, boiling a jug, sleeping in a bed – were new again and foreign to him.”

Adjusting to a new life

Meeting Adam at his new home a week later, Nicola says she could tell he was proud to make a cup of tea for his visitors. He has since bought himself a small television and enjoys waking up, making a coffee and watching TV, all the while still disciplining himself to only watch a little bit as he is worried he will get used to it.

“He feels he needs to keep things minimal so that if he ends up out on the streets again that he will survive,” says Nicola. “In time I am hoping to encourage Adam to change this way of thinking and reassure him that he is deserving of these things.

"I would ask him how it is to sleep in a bed, as for at least 17 years he hadn’t, he said it would be something he needs to get used to."

Nicola and the Doorways team showed Adam how to use his bank card and an EFTPOS machine, they also showed him how to use the microwave and other electrical appliances, it was all a new process for Adam. Nicola also arranged for Adam to have a thorough health and dental check as he hadn’t been to a doctor or dentist in years.

When Centrelink required Adam to begin engaging with a job network provider, he was apprehensive. “I didn’t think I had anything to offer,” says Adam. “I had been out of the working world for so long. Nicole reassured me that she would be with me every step of the way.”

“Adam needs time to process things, so we are taking it slowly,” says Nicola. “Our next step is trying to get him in contact with his siblings from his home country, but he feels he is not ready just yet.”

For Adam, life off the streets is still an adjustment 18 months later. Nicola continues to work with him, reassuring him of his positive progress.

“Living on the streets was hard,” Adam says. “Everyone was out for themselves – you couldn’t trust anyone. I am very grateful for all the help and support that The Salvation Army has given me. On cold, windy, wet days, I am grateful to be in a house and not under the bridge.”

Nicola says it has been an absolute honour working with Adam and seeing how he has gracefully and modestly gone from being a homeless man for so long to now having his own money and own place.  “He has an amazing memory, he remembers all his appointments, he loves nature and animals, he just takes things in his stride.”

When Adam learned that he would be getting the COVID-19 jobseeker payments from the government, his reply was "no I don’t need it". He feels it’s too much and that he gets enough from the government. He then planned to donate it as he said he has more than enough!

“Adam has done so well to have been on the streets for so long and have no substance abuse,” says Nicola. “For me as a caseworker it has shown me anything is possible. Adam has shown me this – he has shown me his resilience, his intelligence, his resourcefulness, he has shown me that you can overcome anything if you have the right mind set!

“It truly has been an honour being part of Adam’s journey.”

*Name changed to protect privacy

**Due to other organisations' targeted work in tracing missing persons The Salvation Army no longer delivers this service.

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