When people learn my back story I often get asked in private “Edward, what is it like being homeless?”, “What went through your mind?”, “What was it like?”.
To be honest, I don’t actually remember much of it when I was a child. I do remember moments and as I think about it, more and more painful memories surface. Ironically, lots of pleasurable moments come from it as well and when I recall those experiences I tend to remember more the kindness of individuals that what I went through.
What prompted me to write this blog was this beautiful sight I saw outside Central Train Station in Sydney. I was in a hustle and bustle to meet my friend Martha Arifin to present on LinkedIn and Facebook at an event. In Belmore Park (just North of Central) was the “Jesus Cares” van and a very kind man feeding people on the streets warm food.
From what I could tell it was hot cups of tea and coffee and I think it was egg & bacon sandwiches (didn’t look bad actually!).
I was very warmed by the generosity and even though I have had a very successful and productive day it got me thinking about the answers to these difficult questions I get asked about “Edward, what did it feel like?”
In answering this, I think as a child my rather brief experience of life on the streets was good compared to most. I actually had a great upbringing from loving parents, however circumstances outside of everyone’s control and some honest mistakes left me in a position no one wanted me in. I grew up like any other child.
In fact, I was quite spoilt. I had a Commodore 64, Birthday Parties, great presents and anything one could want. My poor mother got very sick at one point (who is one amazing woman) and things broke down at home quite quickly. It was a bit like I woke up one day and my childhood had ended. During a bungled transfer I was out on my own in St. Kilda (which today is a nice suburb of Melbourne). As a point, it’s not my parents fault. There were some communication mistakes and they are amazing people! (So this is not to do with them!).
This was the days before Mobile Phones, Facebook and the like and I recall waiting for hours. After time I realized that “this is it” and I am on the street. It was of course quite upsetting at the start and I didn’t cry, but I would feel my throat tense for the time. I went for a walk, sat near the beach and I was very lucky – it was Summer in Melbourne! It was nice and warm, so I had nothing to worry about in that regard. I think it was about 8PM and I was getting hungry, I had my backpack (which had a jumper in there I think keeping it soft) so I fashioned a pillow and slept on a park bench.
I think it may have been some hours later I woke up, hearing a group of friendly and homeless Aboriginals (native Australians) nearby. I sat there staring at the waves in the dark and one of them came over to say hello. I wasn’t worried at all, he was a nicer older man with a beard and he probably noticed that I was quite well dressed and hardly looking like a “Street Kid” so to speak. He said “Where is your mama?”. Not being entirely proud of what happened, I kind of paused and said “I don’t have one”.
I can’t quite remember what he said, but he was like “Come on everyone has a mama”. He then probably heard my affluent South-Eastern Melbourne Accent and said “You aren’t from around here aren’t you?”. I said “I think I am now” or something like that. Strangely, I could feel his kindness and my pain left me immediately and he said “You want some tucker?”.
Now, “Tucker” was not a word I would use and after some humours clarification he said “Fish and Chips?”. The man was so kind, in fact the all were and they gave me some food which was lovely. I think it was a bit of Fish, a Dim Sim (which are these evil little pastries full of manufactured meat) and some chips. As I was quite hungry, I remember it tasted good and he said “You just stay here and we shall look after you”.
That was quite humbling, so I stayed there and slept till the morning. Surprisingly, I felt quite good in the morning. I felt some sorrow about being on my own, but to be honest it was also good in that I wasn’t around any fighting and I could be with my own thoughts.
I went for a walk around the place and started wondering what I will do with my life. I remember seeing two police and I thought immediately “This is Awesome! Imagine having a Gun and a Badge and walking the Beat”. I followed them and watched them from a distance. I would hear them talking to people, people would respect them and they were like totally cool in my mind (which probably explained why I did join the Government later in life).
As one does as a child, I walked the streets of St. Kilda imagining I was one of them. I even thought “I could join the Army and go and fight somewhere and I will have somewhere cool to live like on an Aircraft Carrier or a Warship or something” (as a child, I assumed for some odd reason that Army people live on Warships!).
I was getting a bit hungry and not feeling to good as the afternoon hit and I sat down on my park bench. After imagining I was a cop, I could feel the isolation kicking in. I started to realize that I may be in a bit of trouble and this may be it for me. I started freaking out and thinking about “Where am I going to eat?”, “How do I get money?” and then “What did I do wrong to get left behind?”.
The panic and distress was massive and I just sat there quite blank and detached from the world. It was as if I was quite numb. In this part, I am not sure how much time passed. I think it may have been several hours or it could have been minutes – I just remember that time on the park bench seemed like forever and it was certainly the end of my childhood. It was getting dark, so I think in hindsight it may have even a good part of the day.
I remember a fellow in a White Shirt, with a Black and Red Tie coming along. I freaked out and didn’t know what to do and I started to pick up my stuff and try and walk away. He kindly said “Hey wait Son, I am not going to hurt you. I was told to look for you by someone who cares” (it wasn’t till many years later I twigged that it is my Aboriginal friend that saved me!).
He tried interviewing me and asking my name, where I was from but I was quite unresponsive and incapacitated. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to answer, it was that I was simply unable to answer in that I was so overcome in that isolating experience.
As I trusted him, he took me to a quite kind place nearby in his White Van. There were lots of people of all ages there. The old, the young, the white, the dark and everyone in between. It turned out it was a Salvation Army Soup Kitchen and they sat me down. I remember a nice soup (which I later figured out was “Potato and Leek”), white bread and a plastic cup of orange juice. A very kind woman wearing a similar outfit tried asking me some questions, but I couldn’t even speak as I was that withdrawn.
Later on that night, I remember there was a mattress in the corner and they gave me a small bear (cute) and a blanket and say “Rest up, you will be fine in the morning”.
The truth was that I was and a few days later I could eventually tell them my name and I was picked up by the Government who then took care of me (another story for another time).
Even though I did spent many of my younger years quite disturbed from this experience, I always remembered the kindness shown by people. I would hate to think what would happen if the kind aboriginal didn’t report to the Salvation Army Guy my location, or if worse – “The Wrong People” acquired me.
I was very lucky actually – I met many others that got it much worse that what I did and it was charitable kindness such as what I saw in Sydney CBD today that I find truly inspiring.
My advice and lesson? Kindness to those that need it goes a long way in our world. It’s true that some people are lazy and deserve what they get, but equally you get people who just get “Unlucky” and wind up in positions they don’t want to be in. Helping out someone in need is what it’s all really about.
Thank you for the read Awesome Friends! Life can suck at times, but we can all help it “Unsuck” that little it more. Thank you to “Jesus Cares” for the inspiration and good they do.
Edward Zia – Marketing Mentor and Successful Homeless Boy x x