1 December 2022
No Man is an Island - one man’s journey out of homelessness
I had an opportunity to meet an amazing man today. Frederick is a new Hume customer who moved into our Hamilton Road Fairfield complex in May this year.
Frederick is a diminutive, quiet man, with a ready smile and as I was soon to learn, a remarkable life story that could be a movie script. His history is both beautiful and harrowing, filled with adventures, love, loss, homelessness, and the chance of a new beginning.
Born in Fiji in 1959, to a German Jewess mother and Italian father, who met on the island after their families fled Europe and the ravages of war.
The tranquil safety of Pacific, saw a host of children born into the family with Frederick in the middle of ten children. He describes his childhood as “beautiful,” supported by his parents who were both well-educated and employed in Government administration in Suva. I had a happy childhood attending the Marist Brothers college in Suva, I learnt to play piano, guitar, and drums, and our afternoons were spent swimming and fishing in the pristine waters with a large circle of family and friends.” His teenage years were equally idyllic, the family were financially well off and life was easy.
In his later teens his parents decided to move to New Zealand for work, taking the younger children while Frederick and the older children stayed on to finish school and work. He won an apprenticeship with Otis, the lift manufacturing company and eventually bought himself a 42-foot yacht. When not working, his young adult life was spent exploring the islands of Fiji with his crew of mates. Life was good but he deeply missed his parents and younger siblings.
The day before Christmas in 1987, he bought a plane ticket and made a surprise visit to Auckland.
“I decided to stay and look for work. The first place I called into was the Queens Head Tavern, I asked the barmaid if there was work going. I got a job on the spot, and I also won the barmaid; Karen from London would become my wife.”
Seven years later the couple moved to Brisbane, both settling into the community and working in hospitality. The marriage failed, but both remain friends to this day and talk regularly.
“I met a new partner, but when I was called to Sydney by my eldest sister to help care for my mum who had arrived for a holiday and fallen ill, we decided to call it quits when she chose not to come with me.
My mother had throat cancer and she did not have long to live. I cared for her, cooking, and keeping her company in her final days. It was extremely hard, but I am glad I dropped everything to be there.” Her death had a big impact on Frederick. “Apparently, I was her favourite, so my eldest sister said. I took her death hard.”
Life took a downward trajectory. Fredrick was working as a chef and was finding the physical work harder as he was into his 50’s and not as agile as he used to be. “I am not sure what happened to me. It just all got too much.” Alcohol had been a problem over the years, and he confided that it eventually got worse with his mother’s death. Along with that, Fredericks eyesight was significantly deteriorating, but he refused to seek out medical help.
“I just gave up. One day I said I cannot do this. I could not hold down a job. I just decided to live on the streets of Liverpool and found a place outside the Liverpool Library that was pretty safe.”
Frederick would spend close to two years on the street, unaware that his eyesight had deteriorated so much he would soon be deemed “legally blind.”
He recounts his days on the streets as cathartic. I lived day to day, I met good people, and also not so good people who took advantage of me. But I felt at ease because I had given up on expecting anything in life. I asked for nothing. I tried to be a good person.”
It was while he was sleeping rough, Frederick was identified as a candidate for the Together Home program, a first of its kind $177.5 million investment by the NSW Government The program has supported over 1,072 people street-sleeping across NSW into stable accommodation, linked to wraparound support.
Entry into the program marked a turning point for Frederick. “I had to learn how to live in a home again, and gradually with support my life improved. Because of my vision impairment, I was able to join the NDIS and started to take better care of myself.”
Frederick successfully completed the two-year program and when completed, with the help of Hume Housing was able to move into secure accommodation in their Hamilton Road development. “I have a nice guy called Kon from Hearts to Home who is my NDIS Case Manager. I also met Babs and Nicole from Hume Housing who are supporting me.”
I asked Frederick if he now feels like he is a part of the community. “I have met a few neighbours on my floor that I talk with. Also, I go out with the Hume people. They took a group of men out fishing yesterday. I love fishing, it was just like the old days. They call the group Hu-Men. It is really nice to have friends.
This week Frederick celebrated his 63rd birthday. He and his neighbours were participating in a Hume Resident Fire Safety Drill, and they surprised him by capping off the session with a birthday cake and a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday.’
From Fiji to Fairfield… it has been quite a journey. Frederick sits in the sun, strums his guitar, and smiles. “I have a beautiful life, thank you.”