Lived experience – a journey of healing from homelessness.
My name is Damien. I was born in 1979 and grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth.
I was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) when I was 6, but it was probably PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from traumatic events in my childhood. Growing up in the 80s, you’re told not to cry, not to talk about stuff, so I just bottled it all up and I never actually got any counselling for it.
My stepdad got tired of disciplining me all the time and eventually, on my 16th birthday, they kicked me out. They gave me a box of food and told me I was going to need it. I had no preparation for the real world. No one had taught me how to pay rent, how to pay bills, or anything like that. My first house lasted for about six weeks before I left and went to the streets, and then jail at 18. I got out on my 21st birthday – the first day of the Sydney Olympics.
From there, I spent about eight years on the streets, but I worked every day on construction sites. I was using a lot of drugs at the time – meth, drink, pot – just to feel ordinary and to stay awake, stay safe and be able to go to work again the next day. I did whatever I could to support my drug habits.
At that stage, my job was the only identity I had left. I was a lost soul. Come Friday, I’d be lucky if I had $15 in my pocket.
At work, I was bullied for being Aboriginal; I was bullied for being homeless; I was bullied about losing my teeth, even teased about my laugh. I just kept pushing through because I realised that if these people want to pick on a homeless person, they must have something seriously wrong with them inside.
I got sick of that life eventually, so I went and spoke to Uniting and they organised for me to go to a hostel as part of the Uniting Beds for Change program, which was amazing for me. I stayed there for about 6 months and started to change my life.
After Beds for Change, they got me into the Uniting Homeless Accommodation Support Service (HASS) program. A week later I was in the HASS program and my life has not stopped changing since.
Being in the HASS program has helped me re-civilise myself. I can now shower every day, shave, keep my room clean. I was in tears when I saw my room here. I couldn’t believe it. It’s also meant I could start healing in my life and from my childhood trauma.
For the first time in my life, I have my name on the social housing priority list. I have ID.
I have taken up painting. For years while homeless I was drawing but not keeping any of my art or anything, because you don’t have anywhere to store it.
If I’d come off the street straight to a house, I’d probably be homeless again by now because I wouldn’t have the tools and the advice and knowledge that I need to prepare me for housing. Being in HASS (supported transitional accommodation) gets you prepared for when you do have your own house.
Sometimes you can be too proud to accept support. I thought I could do it all myself, it took me years to figure out I couldn’t. There are agencies out there who can help. But they’re often so stretched for money and support. Especially with COVID coming through, there are a lot more people becoming homeless.
I think a lot of people see the guy or lady on the street, sitting on the corner begging for money or going off in the middle of the Murray Street mall, they see that and they think that these people are hopeless; there’s nothing that can help them.
There many other homeless people out there who are working, who have a job – they just don’t have anywhere to live. A lot of us are couch surfing, sleeping on beaches, sleeping in their cars – they’re trying to stay out of sight of everyone because its shameful.. You avoid people; it almost becomes like agoraphobia.
To have my name on a lease and a permanent home will mean freedom. I’d be able to have my children around. They’d probably like to stay with me. I could even use the house like a studio for my art.
I manage my mental health through art; it calms me like I would never believe possible. I’ve also tried public speaking to kids and it was life changing. These kids are our future leaders, so it’s important that they understand these issues and go into leadership positions with empathy and understanding in their hearts.
Sharing my story also helped me to realise that my journey and my life has been hard, but I have purpose now to help others change their lives.
Damien is a participant in the Uniting WA Homeless Accommodation Support Program.