• Big Issue vendor Phil in Melbourne (The Big Issue)Source: The Big Issue
Poverty can happen to anyone. Here are just three stories of people who overcame disadvantaged circumstances.
Aimee Chanthadavong

4 Dec 2017 - 12:45 PM  UPDATED 8 Dec 2017 - 4:53 PM

Poverty can happen to anyone. 

The Australian Council of Social Service’s (ACOSS) 2016 Poverty in Australia Report reveals that poverty is a serious problem in Australia, with nearly three million people living below the internationally accepted poverty line.

Here are just three stories of people who once were part of these statistics.

Alejandro Omar Villamil Gomez: Age 44 

Alejandro Gomez - who hails from Merida, Venezuela - tells SBS he was determined to ensure that his three children would not be raised in an environment of political turmoil. So he decided to move his family from Venezuela to Sydney seven years ago.

Gomez explains that although he expected to start from scratch upon settlement in Australia, he never thought he'd be forced to ask for charitable food packages from St Vincent de Paul in order to have enough money to pay for rent and school fees.

Alejandro Gomez (second right) moved from Venezuela to give his family better opportunities.

“We spent the first four years in Australia not being sure if we were able to stay in Australia,” Gomez tells SBS, choking back tears.

“But we couldn’t stand the kind of living in Venezuela, so we needed to leave the country; we had to go somewhere.” 

Through juggling a job in a restaurant while completing a masters degree in building services and management, Gomez and his wife ­– who also worked three jobs – got by. The couple were able to saved enough money to support themselves, without the help of charitable donations.

“We spent the first four years in Australia not being sure if we were able to stay in Australia."

Gomez, who is now a building renovation inspector, says he feels “totally relieved” to know his family are now financially comfortable.

“We have settled now and we have proper jobs now. It’s a new life. It’s a lot more than what we would have expected if we stayed in Venezuela.”

To donate to the poor or not?
When times are tough all around, should we still make an effort to support people living in poverty?

Matty Kratiuk: Age 37

Matty Kratiuk is currently a national sales executive at online directory firm, hipages.

But, he tells SBS, he hasn't always been a 'clean-cut' office worker. In fact, he was once a member of an outlawed bikie gang.

From sleeping on a train station bench to a corporate executive job, Matty Kratiuk overcame poverty.

Kratuik grew up in what he describes was a 'normal home' until he was 10-years-old. His mum worked as a nurse and his dad was a successful accountant. But that all changed when his parents got divorced and he was diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). To cope, Kratiuk turned to alcohol – and eventually the drug, ice. 

Kratuik’s relationship with his father, who was also an alcoholic, became so tumultuous that living under the same roof with him was no longer an option. Instead, he found himself living on friends’ couches or on the streets, and getting involved with petty crime for cash.

“It was a place where I was able to let my guard down for the first time in a long time where there were people where I could really trust. They loved me, and that’s when I began to open up."

“I remember sleeping in the park and in the rain, and then moving to Cronulla train station to sleep on the chair,” he says.

For 17 years, he says, his life was full of violence, alcohol and drug addiction. Things only changed when Kratiuk checked himself into Dooralong Transformation Centre after his father died.

“It was a place where I was able to let my guard down for the first time in a long time where there were people where I could really trust. They loved me, and that’s when I began to open up,” he says.

“That began a journey for 12 months…during that time, I did a Diploma of Business and won an industry excellence award out of 60,000 people.” 

“I’m safe, but I’m struggling”: One refugee’s story of life after arrival
For refugees fleeing violence or unrest, Australia is their safe place. But do we offer everything they need?

Phil*: Age 46

For the last seven years, Phil* (surname omitted for privacy purposes) has been greeting daily commuters of Melbourne dressed in his fluro-yellow vest and red bucket hat with copies of the Big Issue publication. Being on the streets is familiar territory for Phil, who previously spent a short period of time living rough.

“It was uncomfortable. It was more comfortable hugging the toilet,” he says. 

The New Zealand-born native, who moved to Australia with his family in 1972 as the oldest of nine, is currently is living in stable community housing in Hawthorn, Melbourne. He says he's only been able to afford to put a roof over his head because of the income earned as a Big Issue vendor.

“I like the permanent accommodation I’m in today.

"It’s fantastic….and I only plan to leave when I get housing commission or I get kicked out,” he says. 

The consistent income has also allowed Phil to afford to buy a scooter, so he can get around more comfortably - he was hit by a car 10 years ago and since then, has had steel rod implants in his legs.

Phil says he hopes to get access to a housing commission property soon (he is on the waiting list) and eventually save enough money to travel to Western Australia for a holiday.

If you or someone you know is in need support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

All six episodes of Struggle Street series two are available to view on SBS On Demand

Struggle Street series two is produced by KEO Films with funding support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria.

How you can help Australia’s most disadvantaged
Want to help people in need? Mission Australia's James Toomey explains why donations and volunteers are essential to delivering services to disadvantaged people in Australia.
How childhood poverty affected me as an adult
Born into a loving but 'broke with a capital B household', Dilvin Yasa recounts the way her childhood has impacted her life as an adult and most importantly, as a mother.
Working but still doing it tough: The reality of modern poverty
When you think of poor Australians, do you picture highly-qualified academics with three degrees and teaching jobs? In these cases, you should.