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15 June 2021
Housing program reunites a family
Words Don McCrae
I met Chris around 12 years ago when he was in his 30s. I was working at a centre for homeless men in Hobart, running a program for men coming out of prison. Chris had been living there after leaving prison for an accumulation of minor offences. He had two children from a long-term relationship, but they had been placed into state care at an early age because their mother was also in prison, serving a long sentence for a significant crime.
Soon after this, I began working for the Salvos as a team leader and stayed in touch with Chris.
He spent years couch-surfing and, when he eventually found a property, he would take in people experiencing homelessness. Problems would arise and the tenancies would invariably end, which left Chris back on the streets.
About five years ago, Chris met the love of his life – a puppy he rescued from the pound and called Mutley. This puppy grew into a rambunctious beast that was big enough to put a saddle on! If you have ever tried to apply for a rental with such a beast in tow, you would appreciate that this is not always what real estate agents are looking for, so Chris could not secure a property.
Many community housing properties for single men are one-bedroom units, so it was unlikely that Chris would ever be successful in finding a place appropriate for a large dog.
Chris slept in a tent for months at a time. He said Mutley was his only companion and once saved his life after someone threatened him with a machete. The pair managed to couch-surf until Chris eventually purchased a car for them to sleep in. He would frequently be asked to move on from where he chose to park and was invariably caught driving without a licence. After his fourth charge, he was sent to jail.
When I saw Chris in jail two years ago, he told me that Mutley was being looked after by a friend. When Chris was released, his friend allowed him to couch-surf. This provided a period of stability for the short term, and Chris worked with Child Safety Services to gain access to his children. Over the next two years, Chris worked to have access visits with his children to a point where they started staying overnight and for weekends.
Even though Chris didn’t have his own house, things were beginning to look up. Recently, Chris came to me and said that he couldn’t stay with his friend anymore and was being forced to move out. He was expecting his daughters to move in on the weekend and, with the change in circumstances, the dream of having his children come to live with him was snatched away in an instant. Chris was distraught.
In my role, I was able to assist Chris, and within two days the Salvos helped secure accommodation for his family, including Mutley.
I find it hard to remember a time when someone was so amazed that, in the face of adversity, the Salvos came through. This is what we do, and it’s moments like these that bring the real rewards for our work.
Don McCrae is team leader, Salvation Army Supported Housing, Street to Home, Tasmania.