Jonathan’s story of homelessness a wake-up call to us all

Homelessness forum organisers Jonathan Shapiera and Owen Farmer at the Salvation Army headquarters in Cooloongup.
Homelessness forum organisers Jonathan Shapiera and Owen Farmer at the Salvation Army headquarters in Cooloongup.

Despite having 25 years’ experience in the Information Technology (IT) industry – including 16 years as a Project Manager – Jonathan Shapiera found himself homeless.

Every person who experiences homelessness has his or her own unique story to tell, but like many people, Jonathan’s story was further complicated because he was caring for his teenage son.

Jonathan is proof that being a professional, having years of work experience and a child to care for does not exempt any of us from becoming homeless.

“After a failed marriage and a bad relationship my cash flow became a severe problem,” Jonathan said.

“I chased contracts, looking for work and travelled from Sydney, to Newcastle, to Brisbane and then to Darwin chasing work.”

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Jonathan had his teenage son with him the entire time he moved throughout the country looking for work.

After travelling thousands of kilometres, Jonathan finally found work in Darwin.

But that didn’t last long. A management decision meant his contract finished abruptly and he again found himself out of work.

“Paying $550 a week for a three-bedroom rental was too expensive and things had to change, so we involuntarily moved into our car in September 2012,” Jonathan said.

The duo spent 15-months living in their car: battling to sleep through Darwin’s stifling heat and humidity while the mosquitoes were relentless.

The former IT manager explained that he did find work again while living in the car, but he said when management found out he was homeless – two months into the employment – the company stated that he was not suitable for the position as a manager.

“We both became depressed. I knew it was time to move on.”

In December 2013, Jonathan and his son arrived in Rockingham.

“After travelling through the area, looking for work and help, we finally settled in a carpark,” Jonathan said.

“There were about 30 other vehicles in the carpark. All of us homeless.”

Help was limited in the Rockingham area, Jonathan said.

“Much of the services for the homeless, only went as far south as Fremantle and there was a big gap south of Cockburn,”

“There were several agencies that we did interact with, but it always appeared that their services were limited.

“Salvation Army Rockingham was the only place we could get a hot shower and a bite to eat on a regular basis.”

By this time, Jonathan’s son was starting to become more depressed.

“We were beaten,” Jonathan said.

“We are resilient, but we had been challenged beyond our ability to see an end to our situation.

“While trying to exist, we had been robbed; told by Rangers to move on; spat on, kicked, and beaten up, called homeless bums by the public and had watched others go through some horrific life experiences.

“All this on a weekly basis.”

In 2014, a woman by the name of Pegah from SilverChain, went out of her way to help Jonathan and his son and they were able to get temporary accommodation for two weeks in March, 2014.

“It was there that I wrote a document for the Federal Senate Inquiry into Affordable Housing and spoke of the problems of the homeless in Rockingham and other areas as we had seen.”

Jonathan explained his story to the Salvation Army (Beacon) in East Perth and his son was offered a place to stay in October 2014. However, Jonathan stayed in the car because they had a dog.

Fortunately, a staff member from The Salvo’s Street to Home Program contacted him and Jonathan and his son were put on the books for priority housing.

In December 2014, they were given the keys to a Housing Authority home in Kwinana – 38 kilometres south of Perth.

Both are thankful to be off the street, but Jonathan says the damage to his mental health and that of his son has been done.

“Two-and-half years living in a car and not knowing where food, safety, shelter and the daily basics were coming from the next day has taken its toll on both of us,” Jonathan explained.

“Depression, mental health, drugs, alcohol and suicide is rife throughout the homeless community.

“Post homeless support needs to be looked at as many other homeless people I have spoken to have talked about the problems associated with remembering the street after being housed,

“Many, like myself and my son find it very hard to come to terms with what happened. But day by day we get better.”

Jonathan explained that there were no practical benefits to having a house to live in – opposed to the street – unless the rent is affordable.

“I was very lucky, that with a teenage son and a history of problems, we were given priority to gain Government housing.

“Many I lived on the street with have gone into private housing, only to end up back on the street because of monetary issues, severe depression, lack of understanding and other problems.”

Jonathan, who founded the South West Australian Homeless People, and several other people who experienced homelessness, are trying to establish a post-homelessness support group on a peer-to-peer basis exactly like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Homeless Anonymous is for those who lived on the street and became addicted to the misguided functions of street life or are finding it hard to cope back in community living.

“There is no real time post homeless support addressing mental health as a problem after they get housed.”

AA New York has given their blessing to get it started but we need bums on seats to establish the criteria, Jonathan said.

“It will go world-wide if done correctly,” he said.

Jonathan is looking for anyone interested in helping to establish this across Perth. If you’re interested email swahp@outlook.com or phone 0422 877 302.

To read Jonathan’s document about affordable housing that he wrote for the Federal Government go to aph.gov.au