HOMELESSNESS IN-DEPTH SPECIAL
By JANICE JOHANSEN
Fifty-three-year-old David Fletcher leans into the sofa, clean shaven and wearing a navy cap and “Shack” T-shirt, and it is hard to believe he’s homeless.
David has lived on the Sunshine Coast for the past 20 years and says he became homeless two years ago when his identity was stolen. Over time mail had been going missing from his letter box.
“Little did I know, until they came knocking and said ‘you owe X amount of money’, that loans had been taken out in my name,” he says. “Why would I take out loans interstate when I live in Queensland?”
David refused to pay back the money, and says his bank accounts were eventually closed.
”They shut down your bank accounts, so therefore you can’t earn a living because everything is paid into your bank account and you become homeless,” he says.
The ripple effects continued, as without a fixed address or bank account, David is unable to receive Centrelink benefits. He was also unable to be counted as part of the census or take part in the election.
“I’m an alien – as a homeless person I can’t vote,” he says. “The simple fact is that you don’t have a place of residence and therefore you don’t exist.”
When David first became homeless he says meeting Dale and Donna Dowler from The Shack was a Godsend.
“I ran into Dale and Donna at Quota Park,” he says. “I moved away from the barbecue thinking it was a private thing, but Dale come along and said, ‘don’t know your story mate, but you’re welcome to come and join us’.”
The Shack is a Christian-based community centre, where David is able to have a hot shower and access some free meals on different days and times during the week.
“I know Dale and Donna outside of The Shack and their family sacrifices to help us on the street,” he says. “They’re doing their calling; it comes so natural.”
David is now a volunteer at The Shack and proudly wears their logo on his shirt. He is grateful for everything they do to help him and feels it’s his way of giving back.
“I can’t pay my way, but I’m willing to work,” he says.
David says being involved at the Shack has given him the opportunity to be a “voice” for the homeless, as he now has the opportunity to speak at schools, youth groups and different charities.
“I’m homeless; there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he says. “I didn’t choose this road, but I’m on it, so I’ve got to make the most of the opportunity and put [homelessness] on the radar,” David says.
When he first became homeless, David says he suffered from severe depression. But when he began to focus on helping other people he says his mental health dramatically improved.
“I said this journey which I’m currently going through, now my eyes need to be focused on other people around me. I don’t know how long I’m going to be out on the streets, so I said ‘let’s just enjoy the journey’.
“I could have been revengeful and said well, I’ve had everything stolen from me – pay back. But that’s not in my personality. I certainly wouldn’t do it, because I know what it feels like to lose everything and to be really brought to your knees.
“I’m 53 years of age: I really didn’t see that on my horizon.”
David is looking forward to his identity issues being resolved.
“It’s a matter of when everything sorts itself out with my ID and I can start earning money, then I can flick that switch,” he says. “I’m putting in the ground work now, so that when the time comes, I can rebirth my life.”
David is excited about the upcoming Brisbane to Sunshine Coast Change The Cycle bike ride, a fund raiser for The Shack. He says last year was the first year for the B2SC event and Nigel, a former homeless man, was one of the organisers.
David planned to borrow a bike, but Nigel surprised him by giving him a professional road bike. Last year David rode 60km to Elimbah. This year he aims is to do half again, if not further.
The money raised will go towards The Shack’s plans of building tiny housing units for homeless men on the Coast. Member for Fairfax Ted O’Brien also made a pre-election promise of $500,000 towards building a homeless men’s housing community.
David says sleeping on the street has its challenges and he learnt the ropes from others early on. He says for safety reasons it’s safer to camp in pairs.
“When you become homeless … you take a lot more notice of what’s going on around you, so you sharpen up everything,” he says. “I created the saying: you got to sleep with one eye open and one ear open, because if you don’t see it you hopefully hear it. There’s a lot of random stuff that happens around town at night.”
When services shut down over the weekend David has to improvise. He heats up his tin of soup on the park barbecue and when the soup’s eaten, uses the can to boil water for his tea or coffee.
Despite the adversity David faces, he is enjoying life and making a difference to the lives of others.
“I’ve sat down with people and virtually told them their life story and they’ve gone, ‘that’s creepy he knows my life story without actually knowing me’,” he says. “It’s like ‘no, it’s because I’ve actually walked in your shoes. I can tell exactly how you feel’.”
Housing is a human rights issue
- Homelessness impacts on the right to health
- Homelessness impacts on the right to personal safety
- Homelessness impacts on the right to privacy
- Homelessness impacts on the right to an education
- Homelessness impacts on the right to work
- Homelessness impacts on the right to non-discrimination
- Homelessness impacts on the right to social security
- Homelessness impacts on the right to vote
- Homelessness impacts on the right to freedom of expression
- Homelessness impacts on the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Australian Human Rights Commission