“Once I had enough money to live, I turned a corner” – Luke’s story

Olivia Killeen, Communication and Social Policy Officer
Olivia Killeen Communication and Social Policy Officer
18 April 2023
Man standing in a white kitchen with his back turned to the camera

Luke is a friendly and personable guy in his early 50s. He’s very proud of his apartment in Southbank, has a professional background in telecommunications and electronics, and spent many years in corporate jobs before working as a handyman and in landscaping.

Luke is part of our GreenLight Plus Program, which was created to help people experiencing homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic who were temporarily housed in hotel accommodation.

For many years, he lived in the St Kilda area and ran a “Wishing Well” project that raised funds for Sacred Heart Mission. It was a series of unfortunate events in Luke’s life which ultimately led to him using our services as a client, rather than being one of our valued donors.

Beginnings of homelessness

Luke’s journey of homelessness began after his place in Balaclava was redeveloped, and he needed to move. He closed the Wishing Well, let the community say goodbye and sold off all the plants to get money for his bond for a new place.

“I had $4,000 in my bedroom, and someone lured me down the back saying they wanted to buy some plants, and someone came through the front door with a key, an ex-housemate I think, and stole the lot. I was left with nothing.”

“I began sleeping in my car until it wasn’t safe and it had to go to the tip, and after that I was couch surfing,” he says. “I would go to the next place, pull some of my super out to get into another shared place, and I’d end up getting ripped off.”

These were people who he had thought were friends, yet Luke describes living with hoarders, being thrown out of people’s homes after helping them, having his belongings stolen and sold off by former housemates.

He then entered hotel accommodation during the Covid-19 pandemic when he broke down and couldn’t cope anymore.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Luke remains optimistic and continues to keep moving forward every day, even if it means working through the pain.

“When you suffer from debilitating pain like I do, you just have to pick yourself back up again and keep on going,” says Luke.

Challenges of living with chronic pain

Luke has lived with chronic pain for the last 27 years, which escalated after a home invasion and shoulder reconstructions. It is a form of invisible disability – Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a neurological condition that can develop after a severe injury but is not well understood and often involves abnormal inflammation and nerve dysfunction.

If not diagnosed promptly, CRPS can lead to lifelong chronic pain, numbness and sensitivity and severely impact mental and physical health and wellbeing but preventing the ability to focus and even undertake basic daily tasks.

Luke is aware he developed CRPS from a workplace injury many years ago that was improperly diagnosed, and his workplace failed to take responsibility for their role in his injury and he did not receive WorkCover and this has contributed to the challenges he has experienced since.

It took many years for him to be able to access the appropriate medication to treat his condition and experiencing homelessness at the height of his pain contributed to breakdowns in his mental health.

“The pain was right through my whole entire body at the time. So literally I was burning up from the inside out, just bent over screaming my lungs out for the days, I thought that was it.”

Luke considers himself lucky to be under the care of a specialist who now bulk bills him for appointments, as these were completely unaffordable for him while receiving the Jobseeker payment, alongside paying $70 for medication per week that was not only unaffordable but also ineffective – the 40 tablets per day made him feel like a zombie, and he could not communicate or participate in society.

“I empowered myself and researched my condition and worked with the pain specialist to get the right medication that was newer and that has made a big difference.”

Gaining access to the Disability Support Pension (DSP) was a turning point for Luke, as he could then focus on getting well with a little bit more income to support him.

“Once I had enough money to live, eat and afford my medication, I turned a corner.”

Man standing in a white kitchen using a kettle, with his back turned towards the camera
Luke says to end homelessness in Australia, the government needs to increase JobSeeker and build more social housing.

Support, quiet and space to recover

Through the GreenLight Plus program, Luke’s Case Manager Tania was able to support him to move into a transitional property which helped him to stabilise again and get back on top of things.

“The pain fries your brain – you can’t focus. So having Tania help me keep my focus, helped me get a place so I could get my pain under control and start to get better – that made a real difference,” says Luke. He is able to undertake a small amount of part-time landscaping work in regional Victoria to supplement this income and move his body, which he says helps with pain management; and working with his hands to prevent the neural pathways from breaking down.

With Tania’s help, Luke was able to access flexible funding to purchase essential items like bed and whitegoods for his new home, and an efficient heating and cooling system to ensure he maintains his temperature, as well as a Google Nest – using voice activation to control things around his home when his hands aren’t working well has been a game-changer.

Tania advocated for him to be able to access community housing – a long term property with Housing Choices Australia, in a quiet building that allows him quiet and space to recover and get on with his life.

“I am struck by how incredibly resilient Luke is,” says Tania. “No matter how difficult things are for you and all the setbacks you’ve had, you don’t let anything stop you.”

Luke is a kind person who, despite experiencing significant challenges in his life tries to help others as much as he can. If he sees someone rough sleeping, he will share what he has with them – he knows how hard that experience is.

“I know that makes a difference, to pick someone up out of the gutter and just say, ‘hey, humanity is nice,” he says.

"JobSeeker must be increased"

Luke uses the knowledge he’s gained over the years about CRPS to help others struggling with the same issues and tries to raise as much awareness as possible. He also helps his elderly mother around the house, and is present in the lives of his nephews, especially since his brother passed away. When asked about what needs to change in our society to prevent people experiencing homelessness, he has two things to say:

“JobSeeker must be increased. We need to stop killing people by giving them a pitiful amount of money that they can’t live on. You will become homeless no matter what, or risk dying of starvation and if you have any kind of medical condition you’re absolutely stuck. So that’s the first thing you should do – give people an amount they can survive on. I couldn’t eat without relying on charity.”

The second thing is housing – more public and community housing, I never thought I’d get that. But also the state of some of the high rises and things, they’re not safe or appropriate and you can’t feel safe or comfortable in your own house. Getting away from those concrete jungles. It would make a world of difference if everyone was blended into the community and not segregated.

“And once you’re actually in that environment, you will lift yourself up to the level of everyone else and be part of the community again and be appreciative of what you have once you respect yourself others will respect you too.”

We firmly agree with Luke and encourage you to join the Raise The Rate Campaign to increase JobSeeker, and help people like Luke get back on their feet.