Vince’s story: light at the end of a dark tunnel
It was cold. Sometimes unbearable cold. Every night Vince would huddle in his crowded tent, which he shared with four other men beneath the light rail tunnels at Wentworth Park.
And while the tunnels provided shelter from the rain, the icy winds were strong.
“Living in Wentworth Park was hard,” Vince reflects. “It’s always a struggle. You’ve got no facilities. It gets cold. You have to always be on the hunt for food.”
And when Vince wasn’t searching for food, he spent hours alone reflecting whether he had much of a future. At that time, it looked bleak.
“I thought I was going to be on the streets for the rest of my life,” Vince says.
But in a moment, that all shifted. “I was lucky that Wesley Mission came along, and they changed all that for me,” he says.
Vince says he’ll always remember that day. He woke to a commotion in the park. He walked over to the Department of Communities and Justice marquee and there he met Rob, Operations Manager for Wesley Homeless Services.
Rob simply listened to Vince as he shared his story. “Rob was really a big comfort and really compassionate. And he said to me, ‘One way or another, together we’ll make sure that last night was the very last night you’ll need to sleep out’.” An invitation was extended to stay at Wesley Edward Eagar Centre, inner-city emergency accommodation.
Vince vividly recalls that long walk from Wentworth Park to Wesley Edward Eagar Centre in Surry Hills. “It was raining heavily, and I got to the lodge and I was soaked. It was so good to have a hot shower and a hot meal. I was very grateful.”
While thankful for these comforts, when Vince first entered Wesley Edward Eagar Centre, he felt overwhelmed. “I couldn’t handle all the people.”
Afraid, Vince turned to Rob and said, “I don’t think I’m going to stay.”
But the tents back at Wentworth Park were gone. They were removed that same day. The only option was to sleep on the ground. “I didn’t want to do that,” Vince says.
Outwardly, Vince wears the scars of sleeping rough. But Vince speaks thoughtfully. And beneath his kind eyes and soft nature, he reveals vulnerability, having experienced true loneliness and disconnection from his time on the streets.
Intimidated by the volume of people living at Wesley Edward Eagar Centre, Vince suddenly missed his community. For those three years he lived on the streets, Vince had built friendships.
“When I first lived on the streets, I was just living in parks and was quite isolated. That was difficult because it affected my mental health. I felt very lonely and depressed,” Vince says.
“Then I met a guy living at Wentworth Park and he told me, ‘You can come and share my tunnel with me’. The friendship started from there.”
While Vince missed his community, he slowly began connecting with people at Wesley Edward Eagar Centre. “Rob just encouraged me to give it a chance,” he says.
And Vince is so glad he did. Initially he kept to himself. But gradually Vince came out of his shell and began enjoying meals, coffee and pool games with other residents.
He developed a strong relationship with Andy, Wesley Edward Eagar Centre Program and Practice Manager. Immediately they bonded over their daughters having the same name.
“He was a very quiet-spoken man at first. But just that little bit of connection and we hit it off from there. It’s something as simple as that,” Andy shares.
Vince is thankful for the support Andy has given throughout his whole journey.
“I’m going to give credit to Vince,” Andy says. “He’s the one who’s pushed this forward. Vince took up the baton and ran with it. He’s done everything we asked him to do.”
And Vince’s relationship with Wesley Mission Chaplain Michael Tang is one he’ll always value. Throughout his stay at Wesley Edward Eagar Centre, every Sunday Vince would join Michael’s Bible study.
“It was something I used to look forward to on a Sunday, meeting up with Michael. He was always a friendly face asking how you’re going, if you’re all right and offering to pray for you”, says Vince.
Vince has continually found hope through his faith and was something he leaned on while living on the streets.
“Faith is important to me. It’s one thing that gives me hope and comfort because when I was alone on the streets, it was good to know that there’s a God and that he’s looking after me,” Vince says.
“No matter how alone I was, I wasn’t really alone because Jesus loves us all and he made a big sacrifice for us.”
“That’s what I like about faith, that you can have unconditional love and there’s no barriers.”
The love Vince experiences from Jesus is the same love Vince has for his own daughter. Vince’s love for his daughter has motivated him along his whole journey out of homelessness. Vince’s eyes light up as he begins talking about her. “She inspired me to keep on going.”
Ten years ago, Vince lost contact with his daughter after travelling through a messy divorce. During this time, his mental health took its toll. “Being separated from her was pretty traumatic for me,” he says.
“I didn’t care as much for myself as I did for my daughter because she’s the most important thing to me. She’s the one thing that keeps me going and I think if it wasn’t for that love that I have for her, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here in front of you right now.”
After the divorce, Vince didn’t have any contact with his daughter. But driven by that love, he invested what money he received from the divorce settlement into a property, which he put into a Trust under his daughter’s name.
“Years ago, I had a problem with addiction and I think if I’d kept that money, I would’ve blown it,” he shares.
“I love my daughter so much and I just wanted to leave something for her. I want to make sure that she doesn’t have to struggle in her life.”
Vince gave all he had to her. While admirable, it meant Vince had nothing left to build a life for himself. And his property investment limited his ability to access housing support. Unable to afford the property’s mortgage payments, he needed to source rental income. But that left Vince without a home. So, he ended up on the streets.
While a unique situation, the team at Wesley Edward Eagar Centre began navigating through Vince’s legal housing issues.
After eight months of living at Wesley Edward Eagar Centre, Vince was offered a transitional home in Sydney’s inner suburbs. It was a fresh start. But it came with new challenges. Suddenly Vince had to re-learn life skills.
“I had more independence, which was good because I didn’t have that for a long time. I was always relying on people and I guess it gave me a better chance to grow,” Vince says.
While a new chapter for Vince, for two more years he continued to wait for a permanent home. “At one point I didn’t know if I was ever going to get housed because of the legal ramifications,” he says.
But when that day finally came, Vince was shocked. One phone call changed his life. And now Vince has a place he can permanently call home.
The first time Vince saw his new home, he was blown away. Everything was new from the freshly painted walls to the soft carpets. Andy and his team organised furniture, kitchen appliances and blinds for Vince’s new home and sent a team of people to help Vince move.
“A couple of the caseworkers came here and set the place up for me. I didn’t have to basically do anything. I just brought my clothes and everything else was set up, so I’m grateful for that. Wesley Mission have helped me tremendously and they’ve been a great support,” Vince says.
“The last 10 years have been a struggle for me and I didn’t ever think that I’d end up where I am today, but I do have to thank Wesley Mission. Their support and their interaction with me and helping me with housing, I couldn’t have done that by myself.”
Andy adds, “It’s going to give him a good base now to move forward. He’s got something now that is his, and I think it’s a new way of living for him.”
Vince now relishes sitting on his balcony enjoying a cuppa as the sun streams down. And just a 10 minute walk to his mental health support service, Vince feels he’s finally in the right place. Now re-connected with his daughter, Vince can’t wait to have his first meal with his daughter in his new home.