The Big Issue : Edition 469
20 THE BIG ISSUE 10 – 23 OCT 2014 Getting Off the Streets MY NAME IS Cam. Over the years I have been homeless in Europe, Asia and Australia. It seems that, despite many successes, it is easy to end up on the streets. Last time I was homeless, rather than race back into fleeting accommodation, I decided to examine my predicament and establish a series of priorities for looking after myself and getting off the streets. The most fundamental priorities seemed to be water, health and socialisation. Regarding water: drink plenty of it, and try to avoid drinking alcohol while on the streets. Alcohol often makes things worse. Health begins at basic nutrition and moves into healthy social interaction. Avoid drugs. I realised that drink and drugs can be a major factor in homelessness; if you can avoid them you’re in a much better position to make a change. Good hygiene – washing, shaving and cleaning clothes – helps make a much better impression on people. It makes you more acceptable and approachable; people are more likely to help you. There are simple tricks like washing a shirt and wearing it wet rather than dirty and dry (this works in Darwin; probably not in Tasmania!). Rubbish bins in Australia and abroad often turn up useful clothing and items: things that sometimes just need a clean and can be sold at second-hand stores if in good working order. While homeless, I didn’t carry too much as it was burning too many calories and put me at risk of injury. Also, I could move more easily over longer distances. Recycling is big in Thailand and Australia. Going through bins or Shelter or the Streets? IS THERE SOME unwritten law stating that, to avoid being labelled ‘undesirable’, members of society have to be renting or buying the house they live in? If you’re of limited means, wouldn’t it be more rational to avoid paying rent? That would amount to one less expense. I have found that I am better off paying the rent. There are a multitude of benefits that many take for granted: sleeping inside, showering when you want, being able to accumulate more than you can carry, having nice clothes that can be easily cleaned and having a place for documents so they don’t get destroyed. There are so many more advantages to having a home base, a roof over your head. Heating, fans and storage all seem such everyday things unless you have tried to live without them. While homeless, I developed an idea I called ‘The Morpheus Identity’: I move, I morph. It was an ethereal existence in which material things were simply tools and props with little room for sentimentality. Everything was constantly changing: body shape, material possessions, appearance. Nothing was permanent. While my living conditions changed, I never got to the point where I had sufficient capital reserves to keep melding, moving and adapting in the way I wanted. At best, it was like being part of the Beat Generation – just 50 years behind the times. It’s much easier having accommodation. You can choose which tools to use for the day, or take an outing of a month if you like. The things you buy can be kept until they walking beside the road can turn up many bottles and cans. If you live in SA or NT, these can possibly be cashed in at a depot. They can be your next meal ticket. Now that I am back in accommodation I keep three levels of mobility: what I can carry on my body; what I can carry on my body, backpack and wheeled case; and what I can transport by taxi or car (two suitcases). It is not so different from Dean in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), who always kept a suitcase ready under his bed, wherever that might be. Things can change very quickly and while I may not end up homeless again, I will always be prepared. I also keep some camping kit and an emergency ‘bivvy’ tent. Once I could have packed everything I owned into a car in 15 minutes, but now it would take me a few hours. Defining your priorities is a positive step. I still have to work on the basics, like health. I require a hernia operation, but once I get past that hurdle I might be able to focus on having some fun and building some finances for such scenarios. Some financial commentators recommend saving three to six months’ worth of living expenses, to help you keep swimming if your luck is down. I guess it’s easier said than done when you are up to your neck in debt, but might not be impossible. If anyone else has practical ideas for getting off the streets, I’d love to hear them. Really, I’m just learning. What priorities do people hold when moving from homelessness into a possibly more stable lifestyle? How do we make this transition? Can we escape the cycle? Street Smarts Cameron D Hunter has had over 100 jobs. He has lived in barracks, tents and under the stars. He has also been homeless. Now based in Darwin, where he has tried selling The Big Issue, he says: “At nearly 42 years of age, I feel I am almost where I should have been near my 17th birthday, almost ready to leave home...and start my life. The last 25 years have been endless lessons about life. Now I am almost ready to make a go of it, not just look for the next meal.” In time for Anti-Poverty Week (12–18 Oct), he offers some hard-earned tips for those doing it rough.