John was used to living alone on the streets. He’d been out there on and off since he was a teenager and so it felt quite natural to be bedding down in parks, under bridges, or wherever else he could find a dry space. As he got older, street life got harder but asking for help wasn’t easy.
Click here to hear John talk about his story.
I’m a pretty independent guy, so being alone doesn’t worry me and living on the street was nothing to me. In recent years though, as I’ve become older, I started getting really sick. When you’re on the streets and you get ill, you just have to keep going. I couldn’t afford a doctor and besides, when you’re a homeless person, you don’t feel like you can just roll into a medical clinic; you’re pretty much on your own. So, when I got sick, I’d just try to keep as warm as I could and keep going until I was better again.
It was during my last winter on the streets that I got pneumonia pretty bad. One day I just cracked myself on the head and said, ‘That’s enough for me. I need some help.’
John begins his journey with Visionwest
The first Visionwest staff member John met was Jeremy, one of Visionwest’s Outreach workers. Our Outreach Team members regularly go to places where people experiencing homelessness are known to congregate to check on their wellbeing and offer support. Jeremy talked to John about Visionwest Community Housing and the steps to finding a permanent, secure place to live.
I knew I had to do something, or I would die on the streets but, at the same time, I didn’t really want to ask for help because I was just too proud. I’d looked after myself all my life, I didn’t want help from someone else. What made the difference was Jeremy. I felt a connection with him, so I allowed myself to lower my barriers.
John’s journey to housing with Visionwest began in the same way as so many Visionwest housing whānau – Jeremy listened while John shared his story of leaving the gang, falling into addiction, and experiencing homelessness. Having heard his story, Jeremy took John to WINZ, put him on the housing register and told the WINZ officer, “We’re trying to find this guy a house. We’re gonna support him and do whatever we can to help him off the streets.”
It was amazing to hear Jeremy talk that way and to feel like someone was going to stand up for me and provide support but, to be honest, I didn’t really believe it … but it happened.
After Jeremy, John met Fiona, one of the Visionwest Community Housing team members.
Fiona was amazing. Like Jeremy, she never judged me or looked down on me because of where I’d come from. She just accepted me for who I was. Fiona was the one who put me in the transitional house I was in before I came to this house. She was the first one who said, ‘Bro, come on. You don’t need to live in a park. We can give you a proper roof over your head.’ She was so convincing that I jumped in her van, and she took me to a transitional house just down the road from Visionwest.
When John shares his experience of being in transitional housing which he had to share with others, he talks of the challenge of being placed with people who are at different stages of their journey away from addiction or street-life. It takes a lot of determination and willpower to avoid being dragged back into a previous life and each person must make daily decisions about the way they live their life because, in John’s words, “Only you can create your future.”
Visionwest Housing Support Navigators walk alongside those who find themselves in a situation like John did. Their role is to ensure each person has access to the resources the need to create their future and transform their life.
Within weeks of being placed in transitional housing, a permanent solution was found for John, and he was offered a Visionwest managed house in Swanson.
John’s motivation to keep going
To keep focused and keep going on the journey from homelessness, you need motivation. There needs to be some reason for making that leap. For me it was that I wanted to see my grandkids and have them stay with me. My daughter-in-law had said to me, “No, you can’t get the kids until you get a safe place of your own away from any negative influences.” I admit that that really hurt me, but I also understand that she had their best interests in mind. Now I can have the grandkids whenever I want to. That’s what makes the weekend for me.
When John knows his grandchildren are coming for the weekend, he will usually contact Visionwest’s Pātaka Kai to get “a little bit extra because of the extra mouths to feed.” He admits asking for help in this way used to feel foreign to him. He felt whakama (shame) and was too shy to ask for help. Those feelings have gone now as he recognises that every person, at some time in their life, needs to ask for help from another person.
I’m not the sort of person who expects help from others. I’m more the sort of person who offers help and that means, when you’re suddenly the one receiving it, it’s not easy. But I’m blown away by what Visionwest has done for me. Every person I’ve met willingly goes out of their way to support me. If I’m feeling down, I can phone the people I know at Visionwest, and they’ll take time out to talk to me. If they’re free, they’ll even come round and see me and sit down with a cup of tea. It’s just so awesome to know there are people who believe in me.
John gives back
In the time that John has been in his Visionwest house he has gained a bit of a reputation in the local neighbourhood – he’s the lawnmowing guy. He loves mowing lawns and caring for sections and so, if he’s driving past a house where the lawns need attention, he’ll pull over, knock on the door, and offer his services for free.
It’s just something I can do to give back. If I see a lawn that needs mowing, I’ll just go and knock on the door and say, “Hey, mate, I’ve just finished a lawnmowing job and I’m on my way home and I’ve seen your lawn, can I cut it for you?” Some people look at me like they think I’m scamming them, but I just point to my car and tell them that I’ve got all the gear. Once the job’s done they are incredibly grateful. We usually sit down for a cuppa and some cake or something. We share our life stories and journeys, things like that. I love it.
When John is asked where he thinks he would be without help from Visionwest Community Housing, he gets serious and talks quietly, “To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be here. That’s where I was when my brother came to help me. I was in the depths … couldn’t see any light. You see, being homeless can be like being in a dark tunnel. But then, you see a light at the end and it’s towards that light that you need to walk. Visionwest was that light for me. Visionwest has been my light, and I wouldn’t have what I have without them.
My real hope is that everyone who is homeless right now might find that light and walk to it. If they feel like they’re in a tunnel with no light in it, they need to keep walking because we can all walk into the light if we just get real and accept the support offered to us.
Trust me … look at me … if I can do it, anyone can do it.
Want to be inspired by another Visionwest Community Housing story? Click here.
**We understand that it is a great privilege when someone generously agrees to share their story. This blog and other material is shared with John’s permission and we thank him for his generosity.