If I’m not laughing, I’ll be crying.

Melbourne Skyline

Six months ago I wrote about the importance of friendship in a blog titled – The Warmth of Friendship. In the post, I introduced our readership to a friend called John. Since our meeting, I am happy to report that our friendship has remained strong and over time, John has opened up to allow me insight into his life. It is an absolute privilege to build this relationship which has also sadly thrown me head first into what it is like for one to become homeless in the streets of Melbourne.

In October 2013, John encountered several obstacles in the boarding house he called home. His home became a place of not safe refuge but with facilities and people filled with risks and dangers. This resulted in him making several reports to the property landlord and to no avail, he was forced to move out. He deemed it more safe to be on the street than living in the boarding house. This decision lead to an unknown and frightening immediate future.

After leaving the boarding house due to safety issues, John was faced with homelessness – sadly a similar path faced by many. Forced to sleep rough, John immediately begun reaching out to housing services. However as most prioritises women and children, each attempt resulted in rejections.

During this time, John would still meet me at our regular spot each Wednesday, and he would give me his update weekly. “I’m calling these agencies three times a day but they are all full” he would report with a smile. “Don’t worry I won’t give up. I’m not going stop and miss an opportunity,” he would quickly add. The same conversation was repeated week after week.

A couple of times when I could not hold back my frustration, I would ask him, “how do you stay so positive?” I didn’t understand how one could endure the life living on a park bench with a smile. “If I’m not laughing, I’ll be crying. What more can anyone do if I cry? So I choose to joke and laugh.”

Sometimes John would tell me that he had been chased by people. That he had found a friend in the groundskeeper who he would seek protection if he was ever to be abused. I never found out if he did. What kind of society do we live in where we attack people with so little?

In mid January 2014 at the same place we met the first time, John came hurriedly to me. With a smile that reached from ear to ear he excitedly told me, “Wednesday couldn’t come sooner, I have great news to tell you. I finally found a place! It’s a little far and and I’m still getting used to all the noise, but it’s safe.”

I couldn’t be happier for him. After sleeping rough through Christmas and New Years, a time when the rest of the world was out celebrating, John has finally found a new place to call home. He was excited. I was inspired by his attitude to life.

We as a community have to address and improve the emergency housing situation to protect people at risk or experiencing homelessness.

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