Homelessness, Mental Health & Obesity – Part 3 – Getting Off The Street
Part 3 – Getting Off the Street
Part 4 – Little Sister (coming soon)
This post outlines a violent incident that triggered me to find anyway I could to get out of the situation I was in. I’ll be describing the incident as it happened, as such it may provide details that people will find disturbing. People who suffer from PTSD or other such conditions resulting from physical and/or sexual violence are urged to read with caution. Trigger warnings will be visible.
Violence, noun; behaviour which is intended to hurt, injure, or kill people – Collins Dictionary
Since I’ve stared opening up about being homeless I’ve been asked what was the worst part of being homeless. The answer is easy, but the concept is harder to outline. The simple answer is violence, but it’s mostly not only the violence you’re thinking. It has its fair share of physical violence, one incident of which I will be outlining below, but I want you to think of violence in a much broader sense.
When you’re homeless, life is broken down to its core essentials, survival. Shelter, food and water, if you are able to secure at least 2 of these you will probably survive another day. The basic necessities for life are not readily available to you, you can’t go to the sink to get a drink, nor can you go to the fridge for something to eat. You have to fight for everything you have. The way our society is structured means you can’t get these things unless you have earned them. A set of rules are placed upon society of how one earns shelter, food and water.
Take these rules and apply them to someone in my situation. I was underage without a place to live, denied welfare, denied the right to education, unable to return home and definitely unable to find work without a fixed address. How was I supposed to earn anything? How could I earn shelter, food and water?
This makes you feel like a victim of violence. At every turn you’re steadily beaten, it may be indirect, but each one of those circumstances results in people being hurt, injured or dying on the street.
I had been homeless for around a month shy of a year and I had been sleeping rough for 7 months. I had forged an unlikely friendship with a homeless girl who quickly became my family on the street, I will be outlining our friendship in the final part to this series. She told me my long hair would cause me issues on the street and I should get rid of it. I was too foolish to listen and let it keep growing.
Truth be told, I would have given up and let the street consume me if it hadn’t been for her. I didn’t have the will to fight for myself, but I had the will to look out for her and to make sure that one day we’d be ok. She was my Littler Sister and I was her “Stupid Motherfucker” (her words, not mine). Little Sister had her own issues she was dealing with, because of this, she would need to have her space and we go our own ways periodically. The incident below happened during one of these periods.
It was getting toward the end of Winter, our winters aren’t freezing, but they’re cold enough when you’re homeless. It was a Thursday night, the best night for scrounging for food thanks to late night shopping. For some reason this night was especially quiet close to the shopping mall and there wasn’t much food around. I hadn’t eaten much for around 48 hours and my stomach felt like it was being stabbed. I was considering stealing food just to make the pain stop.
I started to hear slow gibberish and a ringing in my ears. It’s like an old CRT TV is being turned on in slow motion. I’m on my side, slow motion stops and it everything hits me. I try to find the knife. I hear a woman’s voice. “It’s ok sweety, you’re ok, shhhhhhh” I feel her hand on me.
I have no idea who she is but she is stroking my hair. She repeats it again… “You’re ok honey, they’re gone”.
It dawns on me that I’m alive and suddenly I can’t breathe. I’m panicking because I’m alive. It’s like my brain is struggling to comprehend reality. My eyes burn with an amount of tears I hadn’t felt before. I hear another voice. “I’ve called an ambulance, they’re on their way”. It sounds like a man.
I try to get up and they tell me to stay laying down. I can feel a pain on the back of my head as I move.
I can’t focus on anything, I can barely make out the woman’s face. “Just rest, it’s ok, you’re going to be ok”. My head is on her leg. I can make out I’m leaving blood on her pants. I start to apologise. “It’s ok… shhhhh”.
I can hear them talking but my mind can’t focus on the words.
I hear sirens in the distance.
To this day I have no idea what happened or who that lady was. I can only guess that while I was reaching for the knife the other two attacked me and knocked me out and the lady interrupted them. Or they saw the lady and ran off.
I see the flashing lights in the distance. The lady begins to get up and helps me readjust she gets up to greet them.
I can hear the talking but I still can’t focus on the words until I hear her say “I think he’s homeless”. The response has stuck with me. “Be careful of his blood on you, you don’t know where he’s been, what he’s done or what he’s on.”
I’ve had paramedics attend to me before and I know how they treat people who aren’t homeless. How I was treated that night was nothing like I had experienced previously or to this day. They immediately begin to check my arms for track marks. They don’t even ask any questions. They are talking amongst themselves. I look over and see the lady leaving.
“He doesn’t look like a user”…. “Watch his blood, he could have anything”… I’m numb. I don’t even try to speak. They flash a light in my eyes.
“I hate wasting my time on these calls”. The numbness goes deeper. I can’t remember much more of their interaction with me, I’m not sure if it’s because I tuned out or if it was from being knocked unconscious.
All I know is this experience taught me how worthless I was in their eyes. I was a human in need, but a waste of their time. They saw me, not as a 17 year old young male, but as a hopeless junkie. I haven’t used heroin in my life. Furthermore, no police arrived. I had my life threatened and been severely beaten. It didn’t even register as a concern.
The next thing I remember is laying on the grass with no one around me. I try to get up, my head is pounding and it’s hard to focus on anything or get my body to comply with anything. I look around and the paramedics were nowhere to be seen.
I manage to sit up. I sit for what seemed like an eternity. There was nothing but myself and the emptiness of the cold night air. I try looking around for my bag. It’s gone, literally all of my stuff has been taken. What hurt most about that was not just my possessions being taken, but things people had given to me while I was homeless. They were the things I treasured most.
I manage to get up to my feet but it’s almost impossible to keep my balance. I know I need to go to the hospital. I need to find a way to get there. I make my way to the end of the park and sit. It felt like it took all of my energy to get there. Getting to the hospital was not going to be easy. There were no payphones close by, no taxi would stop for me, I couldn’t find my bag with my belongings and I had no ID or Medicare card.
I decided a closer target was the house of the family friend that helped me on the first night I was homeless. I’ll refer to her as Ms. P. She was a nurse, so she would more than likely help me. Their house is probably 1.5kms away from the park I was at. I remember bits and pieces of the walk to get there, it feels like it took a while but I can’t remember specifics.
I remember seeing her house from the distance and aiming for it. I reach the door and knock in darkness. The next thing I remember is being in the car with her on the way to the hospital where she worked.
The thing I remember most of all is the tears running down her cheek. I felt guilty that she was upset, I felt bad for asking for help. It felt like I had caused her pain by letting her know what I had been through. That was the last thing I wanted. She told me there’s no way she was letting me leave her care without a place to go. “I’ll adopt you if I have to, you’re not going through this again”.
I don’t say anything and I look out the window as I try hard to hold back tears. I catch my reflection in window as we pass street lights and I notice how beat up I look. I even have a bandage on my head? When did that happen?
We get to the hospital and I’m taken in straight away. Ms P. was there with me for everything. She held my hand as I told the nurses on duty what happened. I was diagnosed with concussion, part of my hair had to be shaved to stitch up a cut. I showered there and was given a fresh pair of scrubs to wear back to Ms. P’s house. “I’m throwing these clothes away. We don’t need to be reminded of this again” she said in a motherly tone with a smile.
In the coming days we formulated a plan to get me on my feet. The worst part of all this was finding out what we needed to do to get Centrelink/welfare payment. All I needed was one of my parents to call and change the bank account details. We opened a new bank account and Ms P. called pretending to be my mother and I had money coming in.
All of this shit could have been avoided the first night I left home with a phone call. A year of my life destroyed that could have been fixed with a phone call.
I save my payments until I had enough to pay for bond on an apartment. Ms P. pulled some magic and helped me get into a place even though I was still underage. $80 per week rent for a 2 bedroom apartment. 1999 rental prices were amazing…
I had to make a promise to Ms. P. on move out day, that I would go around on Sunday’s for dinner. I was more than happy to, she saved my life.
I continued that tradition for almost 3 years. Ms. P was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and passed away in 2002. She showed me an unlimited amount of love and kindness.
She now lives on in my heart as an inspiration to treat people the way she treated me. It took me a while to learn the lessons she taught me. It wouldn’t be until 2004 that I would take everything on board and walk away from negative people in my life and discard violence and hatred that festered due to my experiences on the street.
It’s Not The Same
I want to make it clear that I was extremely lucky to have someone who cared enough to take me in. This is not the case for many people. Others face similar experiences daily and have to face those struggles with a lot less help than I received. If you feel compelled to help the homeless after reading this please consider donating to one of these charities: Manna, St. Bartholomew’s, Croft Inc., Passages Resource Centre or search for homeless charities in your city.