United Synergy CEO Christopher John was a homeless teenager who turned his life around with help.
United Synergy CEO Christopher John was a homeless teenager who turned his life around with help. Uwe Wullfen

I was a homeless teenager but I turned my life around

ON THE surface, as a 44-year-old successful CEO of United Synergies, a youth organisation that works with young and vulnerable people across a range of issues and challenges, I am the last person who people would label as homeless.

I don't look homeless - but I have been - and this is what I want to speak up about.

It was 22 years ago that I was homeless for nearly five months, living on the lounge room floor of my younger brothers' apartment.

I had gone through a particularly hard patch, still attempting to study full-time and thankfully, working part-time whilst trying to pull it all together enough to set up a new place to live.

I was eventually offered a community housing unit at 1 Martin St in Fortitude Valley through the Boarding House Project Inc.

I resided there in Unit 7 for the next three years, trying to get back on my feet.

I struggled for quite some time. However, through the support of the other residents and the office staff, Marylin Brown and Louise Wolfe, I did and reached a point I could leave successfully.

 

 

 

United Synergies CEO Christopher John knows he couldn't have got his life together without help.
United Synergies CEO Christopher John knows he couldn't have got his life together without help. Cade Mooney

I've met thousands of people since then, but I still remember Marilyn and Louise by name and will be forever grateful.

Since then I have gone on to do many successful things and had opportunities at that time I didn't think were possible.

I am grateful, humbled and in debt to the support of our government and the constituents of Australia for the support they gave their government to fund this opportunity for me - in a time of need.

Had I not received this, I don't know whether I would have finished studies and am quite sure if would not have gone on to have the opportunities I have had.

As a voting constituent of Australia, I would like to thank you for this opportunity.

Today, I question if I would have had the same opportunity? Not because we don't care or don't appreciate the need facing those vulnerable in our community, but because we limit our politicians the opportunity to act in the interest of all Australians.

Collectively we punish them at the ballot box when they can't give us what we want for "me" and my family. And when the pressures of the majority over-rules, the vulnerable minority suffer further.

Generally speaking, as our society progresses our standard of living increases, so does education and the active engagement of our country's citizens.

 

Homeless as a young man, United Synergies CEO Christopher John got his life back on track and went on to achieve some great things..
Homeless as a young man, United Synergies CEO Christopher John got his life back on track and went on to achieve some great things.. Pixabay

 

 

This benefits our nation. As the majority improve their quality of life, those who haven't yet made the transition - the vulnerable - become more of a minority, have less of a voice and have less ability to be heard.

At our best, our homeless are currently being forgotten; at worst, our homeless are being described in derogatory terms.

Our politicians are driven, self-motivated, passionate and mostly intelligent individuals. They must also focus on the votes of their constituency - the only currency that allows them to get to the position to make the changes they desire and aspire for our nation.

In doing so they must make promises to certain groups or interests, sometimes to the detriment of others.

They reflect our views as a nation, or at least to the loudest voices. At times, I imagine this would be frustrating for them.

In recent elections, this vote-seeking has resulted in the most marginal seats of Western Sydney steering the direction of many significant policies that impact the remainder of the nation.

Understandably to win the election, politicians have to respond to constituents - the majority.

While homelessness is not currently a major issue for most Australians, it impacts on far too many people and, worryingly, an increasing number of young people and children under the age of 18.

According to Homelessness Australia on any given night around one-in-200 people are homeless Young people and children under the age of 18 sadly represent 27% of all people experiencing homelessness.

 

 

 

Christopher John, CEO of United Synergy.
Christopher John, CEO of United Synergy. Uwe Wullfen

In Queensland alone it's estimated that there are currently around 20,000 people who are homeless, where a massive 40.7% of homeless Queenslanders are under the age of 24. Of this number, 17% are under the age of 12 - primary school age.

There are some worrying trends emerging, where our front-line staff are impacted on a daily basis with the young people we help - especially across our homelessness programs.

For example, in Toowoomba, our Gateway House Crisis Support Accommodation for young people recently had 69 young people seek support over 71 days, that couldn't be provided with support.

For those who did get support, more than 50% of these young people returned to Gateway House within a year.

Even though they had previously succeeded, these young people returned because they had failed to sustain their independence following their first period of support.

Domestic violence, justice issue, addiction, sexual assault, unemployment and mental health, all contributing issues for those returning.

Homelessness is not just about a house, it's the ability to manage the issues we face in our lives and the ways we live.

To have the financial resources, to understand the legal and moral requirements of being a landlord or tenant, to have credit rating to put on the power or telephone and the ability to travel to and from work, education and social connections.

For young people today, particularly those who are vulnerable from a wide range of issues, the challenges are higher than they were even two decades ago.

A lack of entry level jobs, more expensive housing and the 24-hour cycle of social commentary and "connection" make it harder to grow up, get ahead or even make a start.

Being young today requires 100 hours of driving instruction, usually a VET qualification for even the lowest level jobs, a much larger bond or unsurmountable deposit and expectations to be highly literate in technology, finances and how "the system" works.

No wonder "hope" seems a rare commodity.

What our representatives in power stand for is a reflection of us. It is our choices and votes that shape the decisions they make for all Australians.

In the upcoming election, what decisions are you going to make and ask of your local member (the one that truly counts) to shape a better Australia for all, not just you?

Christopher John is the Tewantin-based CEO of United Synergies; an organisation that works to support more than 4,000 people each year across: mental health, child and family relationships, homelessness, education and employment, and support after suicide.



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