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From car bed to campus

From car bed to campus

The Record
Homelessness
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25/10/2023 12:00 PM

Garry Liakoureas recounts his journey out of homelessness with the help of VincentCare’s Ozanam House.

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I am sitting in my lab reading the latest Census statistics. Every night more than 122,000 Australians are estimated to be experiencing homelessness and the figure continues to rise. In the next laboratory three students I oversee are working on data for my research paper. I am undertaking my PhD at one of Australia’s most esteemed universities.

I lean back and take a deep breath. Seven years ago, I would never have thought it possible. Seven years ago, during the most difficult time in my life, I was living in my car – I was a number in those statistics.

Before this, my life had been good. I had a thriving business and consultancy, investment properties, a new car every two to three years, leisure, a happy family life, friends and support.

But a dramatic life event and years of self-neglect changed my life and I was overwhelmed by acute depression and anxiety.

I was mentally, physically and emotionally paralysed, unable to perform life’s basic tasks. I communicated with no one; not my family, not my friends. Ultimately, my family and I lost everything, including our home. Separated from my wife and with my family relocated, I started living in my car. Embarrassed and ashamed, I told no one.

Alone and uncertain of what was to come and why this had happened, I had no clue where I would end up. I can’t recollect the watershed moment that led me to where I am today, all I remember is making a phone call to a service, unsure of what help to ask for.

What happened next changed my life: I was offered a room at Ozanam House, in North Melbourne, a crisis accommodation centre run by VincentCare part of St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria.

4.00 PM Friday, 17 February 2017 was my induction – a time and date engraved in my memory.

Ozanam House offers a comprehensive support system under the one roof that is a vital step towards achieving long-lasting, sustainable solutions for homelessness.

We need more services like that, where those accessing services are offered personalised ways of support to break the cycle.

The Ozanam House model is more than just providing food and accommodation. It offers extended crisis accommodation with access to nurses, a GP, a dentist, a podiatrist and an optometrist. You can connect with Centrelink, access legal and financial information and support, and people who will guide, mentor and get to know you. There’s no stigma, no judgement, this is a safe port.

Being at Ozanam House helped me regain trust in others and I accessed every service on offer. Acupuncture assisted me with my motivation, art therapy showed me I had an expressive and calm quality (who knew?), and boxing and exercise began my weight loss journey.

Each contributed to who I am today. Joining the Client Volunteer Program, where clients and residents spend time volunteering at the centre, gave me the feeling I had purpose again.

The care is genuine. It made me feel I mattered, and that experiencing homelessness was just an unfortunate part of my story.

Just like people, homelessness is complex. No one has the same story and the solution is not a ‘one-size-fits all’ outcome. Behind the statistics are people and personalities, all with individual stories and needs.