As the jolt of the jail gate echoed and the barbed wire faded in the background, Wayne Turner approached freedom. With just a bag on his back and nowhere really to go, the 48-year-old originally from Murray Island, left the prison – the place where he called ‘home’ for the past nine months.
After spending two weeks sleeping rough at beaches, parks and empty buildings, Wayne decided to 'swallow his pride' and ask for help.
"They treated me like a person, not a number.”
“I didn’t want to rely on my family, I wanted to stand on my own two feet,” he explained.
I was tired of being homeless, so I went to Bungree and told them I was an Aboriginal/South Sea Islander man looking for accommodation. Within four days Bungree got me a place. They treated me like a person, not a number.”
Bungree is a Central Coast Aboriginal community-based organisation and one of the largest Aboriginal providers of housing for Indigenous people residing on the Central Coast of NSW.
Depsite funding for Aboriginal services being significantly cut in 2014, with 55 per of grants now going to mainstreaming services, specialist organisations like Bungree create a culturally safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are an overrepresented group amongst Australia’s homeless population. As such, they support the cultural, individual and social needs specific to Indigenous people seeking help.
Taking the 'less' from Homeless
Miley Nixon, Coordinator of Specialist Homelessness Services for Bungree says there are five specialist homelessness services on the central coast and Bungree is the only standalone Aboriginal one.
“This is Aboriginal money going to an Aboriginal service that has actually employed Aboriginal people and it's delivering to the Aboriginal community.”
The Wiradjuri woman of Condobolin has worked in the homeless sector for more than 10 years and says the biggest issue is that Aboriginal homelessness gets looked over.
“The community isn't aware of the demand for services for our homeless people and that’s the sad thing. If you don’t know about it, how are you going to help?” she said.
“People need to see something for them to actually react to it because if you’re not aware of an issue, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”
"We never close the door, because if you are homeless where do you go?”
Bungree supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 16 years and over seeking housing assistance and support. Be it from pregnant teens to children of domestic violence, all who are too scared to return. Nixon says there is a strict no turn away policy.
“We’re offering a service to our clients from when they phone or come to our door. If our program is at capacity we will take them and we always make sure the client or family is safe and has somewhere to go. We never close the door because if you are homeless where do you go?”
Back on track
That was the exact question Wayne was left with when he was released from jail. After an abusive relationship and ultimately the reason for Wayne being locked up, he was eventually reunited with his two daughters and deemed the primary carer.
“Bungree saved my life. They gave me a house, helped me look after my children, provided uniforms and textbooks for them and they kept in contact with me every step of the way.”
Wayne described that being an older, Aboriginal man locked up in a place “filled with young crazy drug addicts” and dealing with racism and violence every day was terrifying. However he said the experience has changed his life.
“I’m a new person now and I know not to let my emotions get in the way. I went and got help and now my advice is, if it doesn’t work don’t go back to it.”
Unity with community
In 2004, Wayne was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and is now looking for the right job that he can work with his disability, but despite set backs he couldn’t be more proud to be moving forward with his life and says he owes a lot to Bungree.
“If Bungree wasn’t there I’d still be sleeping on the street - no doubt about it,” he exclaimed.
“If I won the lotto tomorrow, I’d give them half of it.”
For other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who have found themselves in difficult situations and feeling alone, Wayne says be 'the bigger man'.
“I didn’t ask for help for 48 years. This is the first time I ever asked for help from my own people. Go and ask for help, don’t be shy, swallow your pride because it is there.”
Concerning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Homeless statistics:
- In 2014-15 23 per cent of people supported by specialist homelessness services identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander including more than 1 in 4 children aged 0-10.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are 15 times more likely to be staying in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping rough than non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders
- 1 in 15 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people receive support from homelessness agencies each year.
- Indigenous women are 45 times more likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women.
The new series of Struggle Street starts Tuesday 28 November 8.30pm on SBS.
A two-week event: Tuesday-Thursday.
Struggle Street series two is produced by KEO Films with funding support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria.
All episodes of Struggle Street will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast.
Episodes one, two and three will encore on Viceland on Friday 1 December from 8.30pm, while episodes four, five and six will encore on Viceland on Friday 8 December from 9pm.
NITV's The Point will host a special show to discuss the issues raised in the documentary on Wednesday 29 November 9.30pm.