Complex factors in homelessness spiral
Justin went from working in management for two of Australia’s best known companies, to years of homelessness – often living rough on the streets and sheltering in doors for warmth. Justin courageously shares his story for Homelessness Week (1-7 August 2022) to help and encourage others, highlighting the support he received from The Salvation Army, which helped provide the keys to stopping the homelessness spiral.
I’m 44, and from Sydney. I moved around a lot from my 20s, not building many strong relationships. I suffered from mental health issues for most of my life.
I was 13 when I first saw someone about my struggles, after my school suggested it.
Despite some challenges, I went on to work in management in two of Australia’s best known companies and on the surface was doing well. I bought and sold homes, and life felt reasonably successful.
For many years, I managed my mental health issues fairly well, until I was bullied by a high-end manager at work.
As a result, I started having panic attacks and ended up in hospital. I thought I was having a heart attack, which is how a panic attack feels to me.
The slide into homelessness and rough sleeping
I stepped down from the management role and went back to a simpler role. I later began a successful business, employing others, but by this stage was heavily self-medicating with higher and higher doses of alcohol.
The self-medicating, depression and anxiety gained an ever-stronger hold and I first became homeless six or seven years ago.
I had always worked away from home in my jobs, but as I started drinking more and struggling with my health, my marriage broke down. I started couch surfing at friends’ places, but quickly burnt through those friendships because I wasn’t addressing my underlying issues.
At one stage, I moved into a hotel attached to a pub. This wasn’t a smart move and I drank through my savings fairly quickly.
After a couple of months, I rang my family and moved in with them for a short time, but that didn’t work out either. I ended up back in Sydney in a hostel and eventually on the street. By that stage, I was no longer working.
Many nights I had nowhere to stay. I’d just try and find a doorway to keep the wind off. I didn’t sleep that much at night. I’d sleep more during the day in a park or something. It feels a bit safer in the day. At night you definitely don’t feel as safe.
I was also embarrassed. You see people avoiding you. Some people are nice, but others look at you like you’re just a drunk, and that’s how I saw myself.
Are you looking for a place to stay or need help with finding the keys to a secure home ? Contact your local Salvos so we can help you through the right doors.
When I could afford it, I would get a night here and there in a hostel or motel to clean up a bit. This happened for six months or so, until one day I ended up at The Salvation Army’s door.
I spent three nights in emergency accommodation, before being assessed and offered a more stable room in short-term accommodation, but I soon fell back into drinking, then went to rehab and ended up back in the never-ending cycle.
But I knew I couldn’t go on the way I was, and so re-contacted my Salvos’ case manager. We spoke about my drinking, and my depression and anxiety.
Very quickly, I moved back into the short-term accommodation. This was relatively short lived, as I was accepted into the Together Home* program and I moved into a small apartment where I live today.
Continuing homelessness and housing care
It was, and is, good having my own space again.
But the last COVID lockdown really got to me. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere. In a single person flat, I wouldn’t see anyone for weeks on end. That was hard.
I ended up presenting to hospital and was placed in a mental health rehabilitation unit. That gave me the chance to get my medications much better and work on other strategies for my mental health.
While in there for almost two months, my case manager from the Salvos visited me weekly. We discussed a lot of things and I told him that I wanted to give back to others because I’d always volunteered, even when I was homeless.
That is how I started a Certificate 4 in Community Services in the unit. I hope to then go on to complete the Diploma. In the meantime, I am casually employed in a ‘lived experience’ role at The Salvation Army, which means sharing my story so others can learn from it.
Life is looking positive, but I take it one day at a time. I know how quickly I can fall back, if I’m not careful.
Without The Salvation Army services and case managers, I really don’t think I could have got it together. That support, their reassurance – it has made all the difference. When you are homeless it is very hard to find a way out without support.
I hope I can now make a difference, even just by sharing my story.
If you can help even one person, or save one life, then you’re doing well!
There’s more than one key to a safe home. Partner with us to help Australians experiencing homelessness like Justin was. Learn more at our Homelessness Week page.
*The Together Home Partnership is a NSW Government – community sector partnership, started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide long-term stable housing and support. It is managed by housing provider, Bridge Housing and The Salvation Army, along with partners, Mission Australia and St Vincent De Paul, deliver support services to community members in housing.