OVER the past decade I've learned to count my blessings.
In moments of hardship, I remind myself to acknowledge what I have, instead of ruing what I don't. This simple act seems to manifest abundance or, at the very least, helps me to get by.
When I was given the opportunity to spend 10 days experiencing different forms of homelessness for an SBS documentary, I jumped at the chance to understand more about a crisis that now sees more than 116,000 Australians homeless on any given night.
From the get-go, my four fellow "scouts" and I were stripped of our belongings … they even took my glasses, without them I can't read a lick.
For me, expression is my life. Whether that be through performance or the simple act of writing in a journal, I do it every day. To not have any tools was the tip of this disturbing iceberg.
On my first morning, I somehow found a pair of scratched up #2 readers dangling from the safety rail near the location I "slept". Outwardly, I was ecstatic. Inwardly, I felt nauseous and manipulated. I thought they'd been planted there. I was assured this was not the case and the glasses were a stroke of what my wife calls "the Daddo luck".
I was able to scrounge paper and pen, a journal was created and that simple pen became as important to me as my sleeping bag.
After two nights "sleeping rough" under a park picnic table, followed by two nights on the ribbed steel floor of a mini-van with a bloke I had just met, I arrived at Mathew Talbot Hostel. The thought of a bed had me as excited as a steak dinner with my wife and kids.
The Mathew Talbot Hostel was intimidating.
Men experiencing homelessness with 1000 yard stares eyed me as I walked in. The staff sit safe behind thick security glass and I am escorted inside to complete entrance paperwork and have my picture taken for ID purposes. My heart is beating fast and the lack of sleep has me exhausted and mentally fatigued - my brain and body will not switch off.
The energy in here is scattered and violent. Maybe that's a projection, maybe it's me. I cannot discern one from the other. Thankfully I have my paper and pen.
I am shown around the third floor ward by a staff member. It's a maze of beds that are partitioned off from one another, some of them are occupied. The looks I am receiving are as unnerving as the men who turn away - clearly they want nothing to do with me.
I am dreading the idea of sleeping in such open quarters. We keep walking and I am shown to a door. This door is to a private room. This room is bare but for a nightstand, a wardrobe and a crisply made single bed with a folded towel on it.
I cannot shut the door fast enough. I have a door! I have never been so grateful to have a door that closes. It's not an office door or a public toilet door. It's a door with a bed behind it, and a window that I can open. It might as well be a room overlooking Yamba's Main Beach. As far as I am concerned, it's heaven.
The bed is soft, the linen is fresh, and is at complete odds to the hardness of the outside urban environment. The sharp metal edges and unforgiving concrete get to you. Even after several nights, I found it difficult to concentrate, let alone think straight. You can easily lose yourself, and over a period of time, I can see how you also lose the willingness to rise up. Homelessness taxes your life, and forces you to thrive in ways I have never experienced.
If I were truly homeless, my wife and kids would be elsewhere. It's men only at the Mathew Talbot Hostel and there's a time limit - I'd only be able to reside here for a few short weeks. But it would be a precious few weeks to try to get my life together. It's something to be grateful for.
- Cameron Daddo will feature in SBS's three-part documentary Filthy Rich & Homeless on Tuesday-Thursday, at 8.30pm. Join the conversation #FilthyRichHomeless