More people are experiencing homelessness in WA than ever before.
Damien was born in 1979 and grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth. He was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) when he was six, which was later put down to childhood stress and trauma.
“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.”
Damien’s first house lasted for about six weeks. He ended up on the streets and then jail at 18 years old. He got out on his 21st birthday – The first day of the Sydney Olympics.
He spent the next eight years on the streets, working every day on construction sites.
“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, Damien was bullied for his situation. “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.”
Damien got in contact with Uniting WA through the Tranby Engagement Hub. He joined our Beds for Change – now Koort Boodja – a crisis accommodation program.
“It was amazing for me. I stayed there for about six months and started to change my life.”
“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 since COVID coming through, there are a lot more people experiencing homelessness.”
Following our model of Transitioning from Homelessness, Damien then went on to the Uniting Homeless Accommodation Support Service (HASS) program, which provides transitional accommodation and case management support for up to 12 months at a time.
“The HASS program helped me re-civilise myself. I could shower every day, shave, keep my room clean. I was in tears when I saw my room there. I couldn’t believe it. It also meant I could start healing in my life and from my childhood trauma.”
“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 gets you prepared for when you do have your own house.”
“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 are 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 it’s shameful. You avoid people; it almost becomes like agoraphobia.”
“I manage my mental health through art. 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. It calms me
like I would never believe possible.”
Damien has become an advocate for people experiencing homelessness, sharing his story with school students and the broader community.
“I’ve been 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 realise that my journey and my life has been hard, but I now have a purpose to help others change their lives.”
Cost of living pressures are pushing more people into homelessness than ever before. The number of people accessing support from our Tranby Engagement Hub has more than doubled in the past year. Your contribution can help us support more people like Damien.