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

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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

MYTH 1: How come homeless people don’t just go and get a job?

homeless wall street

Over the years, we’ve heard so many assumptions and stereotypes of the homeless that we can’t even count them on one hand anymore. One of the most reoccurring ones being that the homeless are simply too lazy to work. Many people with comfortable shelter over their heads always seem to find the time to question, “How come homeless people don’t just get a job?” In saying this, they don’t ever wonder if there are actually jobs readily available, or if any barriers persist, such as being able to work without a proper home or address.

Actually, one third to one half of the homeless population are employed, with the employment rate holding around 44%- a statistic that may surprise many of you. This might raise questions as to why these people don’t have proper housing as they must earn some sort of money to be able to do so, right? Most of this population are working minimum wage jobs, ones that don’t actually provide enough money to pay for the basic living expenses in many parts of Australia. According to Janda (2015), our country still tops Deutsche Bank’s global list of expensive countries chart as the world’s most expensive country to live in. On top of this, many of the working homeless are underemployed, meaning that they don’t get enough hours to support themselves, or if they did have a home before, are lacking significantly in the ability to pay the bills. The average rent for houses increased by 75.8% between 2002 and 2012 (National Shelter, 2014), and between 2009-2010, it was found that there was a shortage of 539,000 private rental dwellings that were both affordable and available for renters with gross incomes at or below the bottom 40% of income distribution. In saying this, many people who work for low wages find themselves without a home when the company that they work for cutback their hours or staff. In such a world, there are many working people living around us in cars, shelters, or simply on the streets.

But wait, so why don’t they just get multiple jobs to get more money so that proper shelter is possible? It’s not really that simple. Getting enough hours at multiple jobs can be extremely difficult- employers have to be happy to make a schedule that accommodates the time schedule of the employee’s other jobs. Coming from personal experience, even working for jobs that pay much higher than minimum wage, I’ve certainly had difficulty maintaining multiple jobs at the same time due to conflicting schedules.

Although jobs provide money, money alone in many instances is not enough to rent an apartment. What?!… You might ask. It’s true, to get accepted as a tenant of majority of apartment complexes, one must have a stable credit history and a job that pays triple the monthly rent. Let’s put this into perspective- if a room in an apartment or house only costs $650 a month, those who rent it must earn at least $1950 to cover the costs. So although a homeless person may earn at least $650 a month, most apartment complexes won’t rent to him if he makes not much more than this.

As mentioned before, the lack of an address is an issue. Employers are put off by irregular postal addresses as they can’t properly put them on postal addresses. On top of this, many homeless people don’t own actual phones, so communication between the employer and employee will be difficult, and contacting them for interviews would be hard.

Many homeless people also don’t have cars- which makes it difficult in commuting to and from jobs. Samuel Meixueiro, a homeless man living in a church in Kansas had been walking on foot for five to six hours each way everyday to work. “I’m not a vagrant. I have a job. I’m doing the best I can”, Meixuerio said. A police officer who heard his story immediately went out and bought a bicycle for Meixueiro to help him on his journey.

Samuel Meixueiro getting his new bike
Samuel Meixueiro

Before you judge a book by its cover, please take some time to always consider the multiple layers behind it. Homeless people may look a certain way, but many of them are much more hardworking than some of us are. Like this police officer, let’s put their needs over our own.

Read more about Samuel here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3252610/Kind-hearted-cop-gives-bike-homeless-man-learning-walk-FIVE-HOURS-way-work.html

SOURCES:

Janda, M. (2015). Cost of living: Australia tops Deutsche Bank’s global list of expensive countries. [online] ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-17/australia-tops-the-global-charts-for-cost-of-living/6400358 [Accessed 19 Oct. 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].

NFL stars spend a day in the life of a homeless person… and are shocked at what they find

In recent times, it’s hard to ignore the soaring amount of homeless people living on the streets. “Will they be cold out here? What happens to them if they don’t get enough money to buy food for the day? Where are there families?” are just some of the many thoughts that constantly run through our heads when seeing them. Whilst it’s impossible to stop and talk to every single homeless person on every single street, how you react to even one of them speaks a great deal more. Whilst it’s great to simply tell you what they deal with on a daily basis, it’s even better to show you.

Chris Long
Chris Long

Chris Long and William Hayes, two players from the NFL’s St Louis Rams decided to see for themselves the hardships that the homeless constantly suffer from. These two men, who usually live the opposite of life on the streets and are worth millions, put themselves in homeless shoes for a couple of days with only $8 between them, where they panhandled, slept outside, and begged for money.

William Hayes
William Hayes

During this time, they were questioned by police repeatedly just for walking past looking homeless, asked to leave their makeshift home for the night due to trespassing, and stared down by many who didn’t think twice about it. They even met Marty, a chronically homeless man that has made his home in an empty building in St. Louis, who used to own a wrecking company became homeless due to a bitter divorce and DWI’s. Upon meeting him and hearing his story, both players immediately wanted to help out, and were able to put him and another into temporary housing, helping them support them for the first two months.

With only those $8 between them two, begging for money for dinner became a must. Chris managed to get $5 from a generous driver, which meant that the two could now go and buy a burger each from the fast food store, instead of going to the soup kitchen for a small free meal, and it was then that they both realized how much such a small amount of money actually meant to the homeless. In many cases in everyday life, many people simply use spare change or spare silver coins to drop into people’s hats- think about how big of a smile you can put on their faces if you give more! After all, they’re much more in need than we are.

This experience led to many realizations, firstly by Chris, that “the causes of homelessness are so multiple and layered”. How we treat others is important, as none of us have any idea what they’re really going through.

“Now when I see a homeless person, I see lives on detour. Mothers and fathers struggling to be reunited with their children, faces that have been deprived of sleep and shelter. Individuals living in fear and loneliness. Human beings looking to reclaim their dignity… I just can’t look away anymore”.- Chris Long.

We at You Over Me feel greatly inspired by this video, and would like it to give some insight into the hard lives of the homeless. When we’re sleeping warm and comfily in our beds in Winter, many of them are constantly being told to move along at night or don’t even have the warm protection required. Imagine being looked down upon every time you walk the streets! Let’s bind together and realize that we are all the same, and they deserve the help that we are able to give.

Video source credit: Tony Bologne II 

Written by JC