Real Life

What it's really like to be homeless in Australia

Thankfully, there are people making a difference. And you can too.

By Alex Lilly
For many of us, having a roof over our head at night is something we take for granted.
But with the increase in living expenses and rise in population, homelessness is becoming more of a reality for many Australians.
In fact on any given night, one in 200 people in the country are sleeping rough.
Will Hawes, founder of charity WILL2LIVE, was forced on a path of near homelessness himself when he experienced a lack of direction, education and employment in life.
"I was lucky enough to have the support network from my mum. When I hit rock bottom I decided to help people less fortunate than myself. And to do this I began making sandwiches at home and walking the streets distributing them to the homeless community of Sydney CBD," he tells Now To Love.
Will is far from the only one who's suffered. He says that homelessness is only getting worse in 2019 due to increase in living expenses.
"This is not comparable with the increases of weekly pay or allowances," Will adds.
"Due to population increase, homelessness will inevitably increase. There is a greater gap widening each year between the rich and the poor. It is only getting wider each year."
Will Hawes started WILL2LIVE after experiencing near homelessness himself. (Image: Supplied)
Father-of-three Marcus, 40, admitted he suffered from a mental breakdown after splitting from his partner and struggled to find somewhere to live.
"I'd always had depression and it's just through life choices that I went down the wrong path. Drugs did have a little bit to do with it," he tells Now To Love.
"Then I went to live with my family, mum, dad, brothers, but that didn't work out and then what happened was I moved up to Queensland and started to sort my life out again. Everything was going alright but I missed my kids because I wanted to come back down and be part of their lives."
Marcus then had another mental breakdown that led him to the streets of Sydney.
"Being homeless to me wasn't a choice. Everyone on the street that I've run into suffers from mental health problems of some sort, which leads to their addiction more and more. Addiction has been a big part of my life but not for many years, it's just been stupidity at the end of it.
"Nothing was going right, nothing was going my way. I just felt like I was losing grips again which led me to having a mental breakdown and caused me to be on the streets."
Marcus and Will struck up a friendship when he helped to fix Will's van. (Image: Supplied)
Marcus and Will have known each other for around nine months and their friendship began when Will's van broke down and he asked if anyone knew how to fix it.
"He goes 'Who knows a bit about motors?' and I just put my hand up and said 'Yeah I'll fix it.' And then one problem turned into two problems and two into three and so I fixed up the van, he put me all over his webpage and then I went away again and when I came back he needed more work on his van again.
"He's so cool. He picks me up and will take me to Maccas and I'll drive around with him all day when he goes to pick food up from other organisations that help feed the homeless."
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Will says that a big misconception many Australians have about homelessness is that they are all drug-affected alcoholics.
"Most of the time it's just a financial decision that's gone wrong and has led them to being on the streets," he explains. "A lot of homeless people are proud people who want to get their lives back on track, but they admit that it's hard to get a second chance when they are look down upon."
Marcus was receiving money for the government for between six to eight months, but was denied a spot in a housing commission estate due to his mental health not being severe enough.
"I have mental illness, but they don't see it on a level of crazy and I have no addiction so it really limits how they can help me. So I said 'Stuff houseo, I can do it my way'. Even the other day, I cut myself off the dole. It's not a do or die moment it's just more of a challenge. I couldn't have done it if it wasn't for a lot of people on the street who have helped me too, we are a group within a group.
"For me it was a mental breakdown but for others it's substance abuse, mental abuse, but at some point you have to say stuff it, I want better. Just keep going, it will only get better if you make it better."
Many Aussies have the big misconception that the homeless community are all drug affected alcoholics. (Image: Supplied)
Since then, Marcus has reconnected with his kids, secured his own car and license and has a job interview lined up for a truck driving job.
"I am moving forward with life, not as quickly as I'd like. I do things a bit unorthodox but I'm getting there. I've got a job interview and then I'm getting stable accommodation. I've only done temporary work, never been on a wage. I want a wage, I want a salary. I will get it."
Making the homeless community feel visible is a big way you can help. (Image: Supplied)
Aside from donating, Will says the main thing that people can to do to help the homeless community is to make them feel visible.
"Start a conversation. Everybody wants to be treated equally and with respect and feel as though they are a part of society. A simple smile goes a long way."