Interview with: Renae

A copy of The Big Issue
A copy of The Big Issue

Here at You Over Me, we see the power of engaging with others. So as part of our interview series, we took some time yesterday to talk to another special friend, Sandra (she preferred not to be pictured). A 22 year old girl that lives in a homeless shelter and has been selling The Big Issue for a few years. I’ve known Renae for over a year now, as I walk past her everyday to work, and make sure that I purchase a $6 copy of the magazine to not only start my day, but help make her day just that little bit brighter. Maybe it’s the similarity of our ages that draws me to her, or maybe it’s the warm smile that she gives me every time she sees me. Here is her story:

Q1: Hello again! So to those who don’t know you, tell them a little bit about yourself.

I was born in the Queen Victoria Hospital where my mum was also born. I grew up with a learning disability, and all throughout school I had help from the School Services Officers. As I couldn’t learn really hard stuff, I became interested in making things with my hands, and my favourite subject at school was woodwork, where I made a whole lot of stuff- a coffee table, a chopping  board for my mum, a spice rack. I did this right through school and even completed Year 12 in 2011.

Q2: I can’t even make that! I wouldn’t even know where to start…What did you do after school?

When I finished, I tried to get jobs but couldn’t find anything too serious due to my disability- Subway, Foodland, at shopping centre food courts mainly. I worked a lot as my mum passed away, and I needed money to support myself. I did other jobs like delivering catalogues and stuff but didn’t get a lot of money out of it.

Q3: How did you come to sell The Big Issue? Does it help you out a bit? 

My friend from the shelter at the time was selling it on the streets, and he told me about it. When they trained me and told me what to do, it wasn’t too hard to understand so that was good. The first day that I started, I sold all my magazines in two hours and saved some of the money from it as well. I really like it as I also get to meet other people in a similar position to mine, and we help each other out. I know that it’s not what I want to do forever, but right now, it helps me stay off the streets and into the shelter for $25 a night.

Q4: Describe your average day.

I’ll start my day at 7am and work until 2pm so that I get the morning rush. My favourite spot is near the Strand Arcade because other vendors sit there as well, and it’s nice to see some friendly faces.

Q5: So where do you want to go from here?

Right now, I’m trying to save up to go to TAFE. I really want to get my Certificate II in Furniture Making and Certificate II in Construction, as I think I can do it and I have always liked making stuff, using my hands. My motto is ‘keep moving forward, don’t let anything hold you back”.

Initiatives like The Big Issue give the homeless or disadvantaged opportunities  to reach higher and not simply beg for money. Like Renae, many of them do work, contrary to popular belief. They are still homeless due to the fact that they are currently working for minimum wage, but that doesn’t mean that they will be at that point forever. It might be a pitstop for some, or a giant stepping stone for others. I really do hope that Renae succeeds in life, I sure will be there to help her out on her journey. Watch this space.

#youoverme

Written by JC

The Big Issue: Journalism worth paying for

Bryan Cranston from 'Breaking Bad' on the cover of The Big Issue
Bryan Cranston from ‘Breaking Bad’ on the cover of The Big Issue

Many of you, if not most, would have walked past someone trying to sell you a copy of The Big Issue. And I’m sure that many of you have also rejected the seller in a flurry, passing them off as a mere distraction on a busy day. Maybe after reading this, you’ll think twice about doing that.

The Big Issue was founded in 1991 with the intention of providing jobs for homeless individuals. Since then, a total of over $19 million has been earnt and pocketed by Australia’s disadvantaged. Written by independent and professional journalists, it offers opportunities for them to earn a legitimate income and take a positive step to changing their lives around for the better.

A homeless man selling The Big Issue
A homeless man selling The Big Issue

But how does it work? Vendors (the homeless) purchase copies of The Big Issue magazine and sell it on the streets for a price of $6, from which they pocket the difference. As mentioned in a previous blog post, stable jobs are extremely hard to find for many of the homeless population, due to inconsistency of hours, lack of address or phone. However, The Big Issue is an option that allows these individual vendors to choose their own hours, days and period of work, without the need for proper addresses.

Not only does this magazine provide opportunities for the homeless in getting them back on their feet, but also raises awareness in the community about social matters like this, and the importance of helping. It shows us that in society today, the homeless are not simply lazy and do find ways to try make a living to support themselves with basic needs.

So let’s meet a vendor and hear his story:

Paul D
Paul D

My mother died when I was seven, and my father when I was 16. I’d always worked, starting from the meat works industry from a young age in order to support myself.

I travelled back to England with a Scottish friend, but unfortunately sad times came and he became sick and suddenly passed away. After that, I didn’t have any money to get back to Australia and when I eventually did, I was already growing old.

Back in Australia, I tried to get any job that I could lay my hands on, including a road sweeping one, but had no luck as nobody was hiring. I couldn’t get any money off Centrelink, or a pension, and soon I found myself homeless and without a job. I had tried and tried, but nobody had given me a chance.

That’s until I found the Big Issue, which I started selling in 2001 on Hunter Street, which I’m still on till this day. My day begins at around 7:30am, and I sell for hours until 2pm, when I then have a break before coming back out. Many of the customers are regulars, so I’ve created relationships with most of them and on many occasions they’ll bring me out a cup of coffee to ease the day.

I used to sleep very close to Hunter Street, and always next to the same people, a guy and a girl, just for safety. But as you get older, like I had become, it becomes more and more dangerous to outside on the streets, you could get bashed or robbed in your sleep.

I’ve now got a house through the Department of Housing and have been living in it for eight months. Through my work with The Big Issue, I’ve been able to save up enough money to properly take care of myself, I want to get some more blankets to keep myself warmer in the winter months- something that I wasn’t used to before.

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Like Paul, many of the homeless and disadvantaged do work, mainly through such helpful initiatives like The Big Issue, which offer them second chances and opportunities at a better life.

Next time you walk past someone selling a copy of the magazine, please think twice about ignoring them for a mere $6- you could be helping someone pay for their only meal for the day.

#youoverme

Written by JC

How Patrick helped a homeless person through computer coding

Help can come in all forms, in all sorts of ways.

Yes, giving a homeless person food, money, or something to drink can act as baby steps to helping them, but in order to fully connect with them, we must transcend this. In saying this, we must give empathy and not sympathy. We must understand them and share their feelings, share our experiences and more.

Prior to You Over Me, I myself, like many of you, have always felt nervous in approaching the homeless to try to start a conversation or simply ask their story, worried that they would take it the wrong way and react badly, even though I’ve really wanted to. Why can’t it be as easy as it looks when they’re human beings as well?

That was until I read about Patrick McConlogue’s story.

A computer programmer in his late 20’s, Patrick would walk past the same homeless man who lived with his bags of belongings near the Hudson River everyday on the way to work. Both men were around similar ages, and every time he saw him, like myself and others, Patrick would feel a mixture of empathy and shame for not going over and helping him, as he wanted to but was always just too nervous.

One day, Patrick saw him using old boat chains to exercise, lifting them up and down in a similar re-enactment to a Rocky Balboa scene. He decided to approach him with the intention of wanting to help him out.

Rocky Balboa training scene
Rocky Balboa training scene

He gave him two options: either he would give the man $100 cash, or use his own laptop to teach him to write computer code. An unusual proposal, but one that could change the man’s life for a day, or forever.

The man revealed his name as Leo, and then accepted the latter offer. Patrick believed that if Leo could master coding, he would be able to turn his life around with a skill that many people can’t even possess and hopefully get a job.

Patrick teaching Leo to code
Patrick teaching Leo to code

With a second hand laptop, three books on Java, and the programming language, Leo and Patrick began these one on one sessions. Although Leo had a limited knowledge of computer basics, Patrick realized that he had an extreme willingness to learn about coding, along with a remarkable memory that could easily remember word for word.

Coding, more complex than you think
Coding, more complex than you think

Leo even proposed an app idea for a smartphone- a car-sharing one that would monitor the amount of CO2 emissions you’ve avoided, an idea that spurred from his interest in the environment and to make the world a better place.

“It has become the best part of my day. I usually spend my working life staring at a computer screen, but here is a real human being, who is enthusiastic and focused. It is a pleasure to spend time with him,” said Patrick.

Leo works hard every day for three hours with him, and it’s become a surprising friendship that both of them did not expect.

Something interesting that I gathered from this story was Patrick’s realization that the homeless are more complex than one might think.

“I always thought homeless people were isolated, but Leo is part of a very supportive community. He says the hardest thing is not the practical challenges but society’s view of him. There is an assumption that homeless people are addicted to something or mentally ill, but Leo doesn’t drink or smoke; he became homeless after he lost his job and then his accommodation in 2011.”

We hope that Patrick and Leo’s story is one that will encourage you to look past the myths that surround the homeless, you might be surprised at what you find. I once saw a homeless person holding a sign with the line,  “If you don’t see us, then we don’t exist” written on it. Like Patrick, let’s show them that we care, that we do see them and that we do value their existence.

“If he said he needed anything, I’d jump through hoops for him, but I don’t ever want him to think we are anything but equals.”

Not only has Patrick’s approach proved that we need to start seeing the potential of the homeless, but to actually become that stepping stone to help or motivate them to turn their lives around. Let’s put their needs over our own as they’re much more in need of it.

#youoverme

Written by JC

Quick Info: Homelessness & Domestic Violence

Now that we’ve given you the big picture, let’s give you a quick background.

domestic

As you can see through our various true stories below, homelessness can happen to anyone, even the happiest of people. A critical factor that directly contributes to this increasing social problem is domestic violence, a problem that is faced by many in the country.

domestic

In Australia, one woman is killed each week due to domestic violence, with one in three experiencing it generally (Homelessness Australia, 2012). National Shelter (2014) found that domestic and family violence topped the leader board of causes for homelessness with 23%, with 55% of females citing this reason as being without a home.

So far, police in Australia have dealt with an average of 594 domestic violence matters. If you were in the situation, would you make the call to take your child away from the problem to protect them?

When women do eventually leave these abusive partners, they’re jumping into a safety net that’s full of holes. The demand for shelter throughout Australia is so high that every second woman has to be turned away, and majority of these women will end up homeless.

I used to work with a woman that had to crash on the couches of her fellow co-workers to try to escape the harsh conditions with her husband at home, and I was able to track her down to see more into her story. I met up with Sarah* (name changed), who now lives with her three-year old daughter in a community house shelter that only has room for five families at a time, charging $25 a night.

women

“I was a victim of violence. I never phoned the police as although I was always afraid, I loved my husband. He was the father of our child and because of that, it becomes hard to speak up”, she said.

“Don’t look at me and stereotype- I wasn’t homeless because of drugs, alcohol, addictions. People don’t understand that being homeless is also a choice and in saying that it becomes a situation that goes beyond my control”.

Although she could rely on the generosity of her co-workers in providing her a couch throughout this period of hardship, as opposed to living on the streets, it still constituted as being ‘homeless’ due to her lack of homely elements such as a sense of security, stability, privacy, and safety.

Nowadays, she is still without a proper home, but is working towards putting herself and her daughter in more homely conditions.

“Living here is probably the safest and most secure I’ve felt in a long time even though it isn’t a permanent thing”.

What would you do in Sarah’s* situation?

Please take a minute to think about the complexities behind homelessness. Many do not simply ‘choose’ to be homeless. Factors such as domestic violence directly tear families apart, leaving many women without a home and without a sense of dignity. Homelessness is not a matter that we should overlook but rather, take time to pick apart the pieces. Let’s realize the importance in recognising the homeless, and help those in need in ways that we can. 

#youoverme

SOURCES:

Homelessness Australia, (2013). Homelessness in Australia. [online] Available at: http://www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au/images/publications/Fact_Sheets/Homelessness_in_Australia_v2.pdf [Accessed 22 Aug. 2015].

National Shelter, (2015). Housing Australia factsheet. [online] WA: Shelter WA, pp.2-12. Available at: http://www.shelternsw.org.au/publications-new/factsheets-new/226-housing-australia-factsheet/file [Accessed 22 Aug. 2015].

Written by JC

Spotlight on Ted Williams: from homeless to American radio host

Ted Williams and the sign that lead to success
Ted Williams when he was homeless

Ted Williams, an American radio host, voice-over artist, and internet sensation. But life wasn’t always this way. Four years ago, Williams was an African American homeless man on the streets of Ohio begging people for spare change.

But let’s backtrack to his early life. After being honorably discharged following three years serving the United States Army, he enrolled at a voice acting school after being inspired by a radio announcer during his early school days. Following this, Williams often worked long, overnight shifts at WVKO (AM) radio station in Columbus during the soul music segments.

However, the year 1986 marked his downfall. Drugs and alcohol abuse started to overtake his life, on top of a loss of interest in his radio career. After being evicted from his house in 1994, Williams was arrested over seven times for charges of theft, drug possession, escape and robbery, along with counts of trespassing, pedestrian solicitation and drug abuse. For over two years, he sat in jail and lost everything.

And then things turned around.

Four years ago, when Williams was walking around the streets with a sign informing everyone, “I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times”, luck gave him another chance.

Doral Chenoweth, a videographer for the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio saw Williams with this cardboard sign, and subsequently asked him to demonstrate his voice whilst videoing it (watch it below).

The video was posted onto YouTube, where it gained viral status with over 20 million views. The media buzzed with excitement around the man with the “golden voice”. Who was this person that sounded like the love child of Morgan Freeman and David Attenborough? Where could they hear more? Williams’ story garnered a significant amount of attention, with many of the public creating sites to urge others to pledge money, clothes and job offers to him. Help him, they begged, give him a second chance at life.

In 2011, he was invited onto the ‘Dave and Jimmy Show’ on WNCI and also ‘The Early Show’ on CBS, along with the Today Show.

“It happened so fast. One day I’m homeless with not two pennies to rub together, and then the next day I’m in Hollywood”, he said.

One thing lead to another and Williams was offered a home and job by the Cleveland Caveliers NBA basketball team, along with side jobs from MSNBC to provide voiceovers. Additionally, he became the voice behind Kraft Food’s 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl campaign, as well as a $300,000 book advance.

However, depression soon followed due to the pressure of being thrust straight into the spotlight, a number of bad business deals and failed attempts at drug rehabilitation, which subsequently lead to him losing his car and condo.

Nowadays, a new manager and a renewed view on life has given him the determination to chase success till the end. He’s no longer homeless for the second time, and instead lives with his girlfriend in a house with a fire place (a major plus he says!), working as a voice-over artist whilst also finding satisfaction through his work with the homeless.

Now sober for a few years, Williams travels the country as a public speaker to organisations and groups, sharing his story and experiences in order to raise awareness about homelessness. He also became the mastermind behind ‘The Ted Williams Project’, a non-profit organisation that aims to eradicate homelessness in his hometown.

Ted Williams, a changed man
Ted Williams, a changed man

“I’m still in recovery,” he told Fox News. “But it has been three years since this divine blessing. I am looking forward to taking God’s message and the message of redemption, hope and of second chances, addiction, mental heath and homelessness…I had a cloud covering that star you know. Now that cloud is slowly moving away”.

Although the homeless may appear worthless and lazy in many instances, many of them, like Williams, have many more skills than we could ever dream of. Let’s give them the opportunities to show us. A second chance is open to anyone, as long as you always try and never give up hope. Like Williams, many of the homeless have jobs or used to, and we should never simply stereotype them.

#youoverme

Written by JC

The Chris Gardner Saga: Inspirational quotes

As seen below in our Spotlight on Chris Gardner, who once found himself homeless whilst working hard as a stockbroker to put a roof over him and his son’s heads, success is achievable even if you’re living on the streets. Now a multimillionaire, his story, ‘Pursuit of Happiness’, is one to admire.

Chris Gardner and Will Smith
Chris Gardner and Will Smith

Here are some inspirational quotes from Gardner to get you’re Wednesday hump day flowing:

  1. “I was homeless, but I wasn’t hopeless. I knew a better day was coming”.
  2. “It’s estimated that 12 percent of all of the homeless people in this country have jobs and go to work everyday”.
  3. “The future was uncertain, absolutely, and there were many hurdles, twists, and turns to come, but as long as I kept moving forward, one foot in front of the other, the voices of fear and shame, the messages from those who wanted me to believe that I wasn’t good enough, would be stilled”.
  4. “The world is your oyster. It’s up to you to find the pearls”.
  5. “Others may question your credentials, your papers, your degrees…But what is inside you no one can take from you or tarnish.”
  6. “Walk that walk and go forward all the time. Don’t just talk that talk, walk it and go forward. Also, the walk didn’t have to be long strides; baby steps counted too. Go forward”.
  7. “Still a dreamer, yet more of a realist than ever before, I knew this was my time to sail. On the horizon I saw the shining future, as before. The difference now was that I felt the wind at my back. I was ready”.

#youoverme

Written by JC

SOURCES:

Carmichael, E. (2014). Chris Gardner Quotes. [online] Evancarmichael.com. Available at: http://www.evancarmichael.com/Famous-Entrepreneurs/815/Chris-Gardner-Quotes.html [Accessed 20 Oct. 2015].

Goodreads.com, (2015). Chris Gardner > Quotes. [online] Available at: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/7127.Chris_Gardner [Accessed 20 Oct. 2015].

Spotlight on Chris Gardner: from homelesss to multimillionaire

Chris Gardner
Chris Gardner

Chris Gardner- a picture of perfectness filled with fatherhood and a multimillionaire business. But life wasn’t always this way. Growing up with an abusive stepfather that regularly beat his mother and being raped by a man as a boy certainly affected him greatly. Gardner’s ex-partner, Jackie, gave birth to their son, Christopher Jarrett Media Gardner Jr., in 1981, the same year that he was working as a research lab assistant at UCSF, which only paid $8,000 annually- an amount that was not enough to support a family, and eventually quit after four years, becoming a medical equipment salesman.

Gardner recalls a pivotal moment in his life, when he came across an immaculately-dressed man named Bob Bridges driving a red Ferrari whilst offering him his spot in a parking lot. “You can have my spot”, he said, “but I gotta ask you a couple questions… What do you do? How do you do it?”. The man answered back with, “I’m a stockbroker”.

More determined than ever to follow this man’s path, he began directly visiting investment firms to try and find work, but found himself taken into custody instead due to $1,200 of fines in unpaid parking tickets. After being released, Gardner went directly to Dean Witter Reynolds’ stock brokerage, and was accepted into the training program. Despite this being an unpaid internship, his determination to become the best shone through, and he would always be the first and last one in the office, always trying to reach his goal of 200 calls a day. However, this unpaid role meant that it began a struggle to support living expenses whilst also solely supporting a two-year-old son.

Chris Gardner and his son
Chris Gardner and his son

Gardner and his son secretly struggled with homelessness with none of his co-workers knowing about it for over a year. He would often make every effort to put his son in daycare, stand in soup kitchens, and slept anywhere where he and his son would be safe, such as at the office after hours, motels, public transport. In one case, they slept at MacArthur station in Oakland, CA, locking the door and sleeping the whole night on the bathroom floor, with people constantly banging loudly on the door wondering what was going on inside.

The bathroom floor where Gardner and his son slept overnight
The bathroom floor where Gardner and his son slept overnight
The toilet scene, as scene in Will Smith's 'Pursuit of Happiness'
The toilet scene, as scene in Will Smith’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’

In another case, the father and son duo often had to wait in line for rooms provided by the local church. The lines for the rooms started at 6pm, and you had to be out by 8am the next morning. On numerous nights, they missed the cut, meaning that they had to sleep in subway stations or waiting areas.

Eventually, his willpower and refusal to give up lead to him being employed by Bear Stearns & Company, where he became a top earner through his ever-lasting determination. In 1987, he founded his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich, in Chicago, and the rest is history.

“I couldn’t tell you that we were homeless, I just knew that we were always having to go. So, if anything, I remember us just moving, always moving”, says Gardner, looking back.

The first day that him and his son had their own roof over their heads will forever be etched clearly into Gardner’s mind. “On the first night we slept on the floor because we didn’t have any furniture yet. The next day we were walking out the door and my little boy got very upset. He said ‘papa, you forgot to bring our things’. He was upset because he was used to having to take our stuff with us every day, wherever we were. I don’t know how to explain the beauty of it, to be able to say to my little boy ‘we are home now, we don’t have to bring our stuff anymore.'”

He believes that homelessness that can affect anyone in the city, no matter the race or no matter how lazy or not lazy you are, and success is in the reach of anyone, if you try hard enough.

We hope that this inspirational story of Chris Gardner shows that there are more complex stories behind the homeless- hard work is not a word that is non existent in their vocabulary. I myself definitely do not have the ability to become a stockbroker!

Below is Gardner’s story made accessible through Will Smith’s adaption of it in ‘Pursuit of Happiness’.

Written by JC