Hey John! Tell us a bit about yourself and your story?
It started off when I was 7 years old when I found out that I really didn’t have any parents. I was the black sheep of the family. I got taken in as an orphan at a local boys’ home where I had many traumatic experiences. I was raped there many times, so I left & was always on the run. Throughout those years alcohol and drugs were introduced into my life. It was an escape mechanism and something that didn’t leave me for a long period of time. In the early 1980s, I did something I wasn’t proud of which got me five and a half years in jail. My kids and wife disappeared so once I got out, I had no one, nothing. I was able to get off the drugs inside, so I decided to try the straight life again - being drug and alcohol-free. I was in and out of hospitals, placed in bedsits supervised by parole officers and in administrative housing, but I was never comfortable. I wanted to start my own removalist company for the people in government housing, but I couldn’t afford to get it up and running financially. So, with no income it led me back to the streets. There wasn’t much help around & each place I went to didn’t know what to do with a fella like me.
Between 2007 and 2011, I lived in the back of a truck. During this time, I got introduced to a magazine company called The Big Issue. The Big Issue is a not-for-profit orgainization supporting and creating work opportunities for people without a home. Selling The Big Issue allowed me to make some money and become more well known on the street. The local newspaper then reached out to me & asked to share my story. The local article led me to be interviewed by The Herald Sun, The Age and A Current Affair. This type of publicity allowed me to share my story on other platforms, becoming an advocate for people without a home. It also connected me with orgainizations such as Council to Homeless Persons who are doing everything in their power to end homelessness in Australia. As time passed, more people, companies & churches provided more support to people without a home, giving out supplies like food & clothes. As I got on my feet, the main thing I needed was permanent housing. I was lucky enough to be offered a flat by a The Wintringham Organisation. I’ve been in my flat for eleven years now and don’t plan on moving, it's my home.
What were some of the hardships you faced through getting into drugs, alcohol and living on the street?
I started getting into drugs, alcohol, and tattoos when I was 12 years old. Since then I’ve overdosed and been brought back to life (from overdoses) four times. I’ve gone through so many illnesses - from hepatitis, pneumonia and pilonidal but I keep coming back. I’m proud of that. During my addiction, I needed money so badly to feed my habit that I chopped off my finger off at work with a meat cleaver. I was high at the time, so I didn’t feel a thing. I told the hospital it got caught in the machinery, and as there were no OH&S practices in place, it was deemed as an accident. It’s crazy what addicts do for drugs.
When I was on the streets, I used to eat out of rubbish bins, park bins and ‘snowdrop’ into people’s houses. This meant breaking into homes to having a shower & eating some food. Then I would clean up the dishes and put the towels in the washing machine, leaving a note saying, ‘Sorry I had no choice, I’m homeless & starving’. Restaurants bins were a great place to get food. You’d be amazed of what people throw out like luxuries of perfect lobsters and clams. You had to work for every single meal, absolutely nothing came easy.
What pushed you towards sobriety and recovery from the alcohol and drug abuse?
I came off the drugs in prison, which was hard, but you had no choice. Drugs were around inside, but I never touched them as we had constant tests and if we were caught, we would lose our canteen access for three months. It just wasn't worth it as the canteen access kept you sane. So by the time I got out, I honestly just thought I would give it a go and if I didn't like it I could always go back.
Tell us the meaning behind the eyes tattooed onto your eyelids?
When I was sleeping on the street, I got so sick of people waking me up! Many people, even the police would come up & talk to me on the streets while I was sleeping. It’s hard enough to sleep on the street let alone with people interrupting you all the time. Now I’m always awake.
Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
Stick in school and get qualified so you have something to fall back onto in life. I wish I went to school. You don’t realize how much it helps you until you’re an adult.
What’s your biggest life mission now?
It’s to get affordable and permanent housing for those living on the streets. We don’t call them ‘homeless’ anymore we call them people without a home. It's more respectuful as there are so many reasons as to why people have no home. I’m doing this by participating in talks with organisations and getting involved with Everybody’s Home. It gives you information on what’s going on with people on the street, what the government is doing & how you can help.
What is the most valuable support we can give to those in need?
Firstly, do not give money. Try to offer people without a home food, coffee or just a chat! Even a smile means a lot as we spend most of our life feeling invisible. That’s the whole reason I got all my tattoos because I was sick of the people walking around Melbourne with sad faces. I wanted to add some colour, some art & use it as a conversation starter. One day a guy on tram said to me ‘when I got on the tram this morning I was in a bad mood. Now that I’ve seen you, I’m in a good mood! You made my day’. That’s my aim. To brighten up the day.
Personally, the greatest help for me was from The Wintringham Organisation. So if I could recommend somewhere to donate to it would be them.
What’s important to you in a pair of shoes?
Anything to keep my feet warm & dry. I need them to be easy to get on and off and comfortable.
One of your favourite pairs from Wild Rhino’s?
QUICK FIRE ROUND
Early bird or night owl? Night – sometimes I never sleep, I get about 2-3 hours sleep. Bed’s still feel weird for me because I’m used to concrete.
Introvert or Extrovert? Extrovert - I always say what's on my mind.
Dogs or cats? Cats - Sheeba & Midnight are my babies
Coffee or Tea? Coffee. You haven’t had a proper cup of coffee until you’ve tried mine!
A special thank you to the team at Thursday Friends who work tirelessly to provide on-going support to those in the community. Thank you for inspiring us & connecting us.