16 October, 2014

Canberra Times Poverty

Kylie Ofiu, Jayson Perrin, centre, and Anthony O’Hara have all been helped to break free of the cycle of severe poverty. Photo: Rohan Thomson

No matter your job or where you've come from, with the wrong streak of bad luck anyone can end up in poverty and homelessness, say three Canberrans who've already been there.

For Jayson Perrin, Anthony O'Hara and Kylie Ofiu it was the kindness of a few strangers and volunteers who helped them break the cycle of severe poverty.

Speaking at a conference for Anti-Poverty Week 2014, Mr Perrin said he lived in his car with his baby daughter for nine months while on the waiting list for government housing.

"I wasn't able to get many community services that I trusted to come and support me and there was nothing around for fathers and their children at that [time]," he said.

With the support of Barnardos and others, Mr Perrin got his life back on track and has won awards in his new job as a youth worker.

He said there were currently 700 Canberrans without a roof over their heads, and 5000 had registered as homeless since January 2012.

Before she was the chief executive of an advertising company and a nominee for Young Australian of the Year, Kylie Ofiu said she was living on friend's couches trying to hide from her violent ex-husband.

She said she was surprised to find how few Canberrans realised the extent to which poverty affected their fellow ACT residents.

"Having my own company I deal with a lot of other CEOs and it surprised me how many people in Canberra have absolutely no clue we have the second highest rate of homelessness in the country," she said.

"[They don't know] just how many people are living below the poverty line and how difficult it can be if you're not earning the sort of wage that many Canberrans are."

Anthony O'Hara said despite growing up in a white-collar, middle class family, in a very short space of time problems with his mental health led him to become unemployed and homeless.

Mr O'Hara said people should realise it only took a few things to fall against you for you to end up in a very bad situation.

"When I see somebody on the street, I don't want to look down on that person, I want to try to realise that that was me, and it could have been anyone of you," he said.

"I want people to realise when you see someone on the street, say hello, if you've got ten minutes maybe offer them a coffee. That might be the highlight of their week."

For more information on Anti-Poverty Week, see antipovertyweek.org.au.

(This article was first published in the Canberra Times on 16 October, 2014 and was written by Ben Westcott. Photo by Rohan Thomson.)