“I FEEL better because I know it is not only me who has been through this and I’m proud of myself for coming this far.”
Those were the words of a young man aged in his 20s at Murray Bridge’s National Homelessness Week event.
He shared personal contributions to the Reflections on Homelessness – Our Future Can Still Be Bright exhibition about how ac.care helped him move on from 15 years of housing instability, including periods of homelessness.
The exhibition, hosted by ac.care at Murray Bridge Town Hall on August 2, provided an opportunity for people who have experienced homelessness to express themselves by sharing photographs, written reflections and recorded audio statements, offering unique insight into their lives.
Another participant said he felt “uplifted” by the way his photographs and comments were featured in the exhibition.
Wiping back tears at times, he quietly explained his story and the meaning behind his images to community members who wandered through the exhibition.
The man’s pride in sharing his story and personal growth was clear in the way he wandered outside to encourage passers-by to explore the display.
The exhibition attracted more than 50 people for the one-day display and was supported with games and activities provided by Communities for Children Murraylands and Together 4 Kids and free soup served to all visitors by the Rotary Club of Murray Bridge.
ac.care chief executive officer Shane Maddocks said the exhibition was a valuable opportunity to raise awareness during National Homelessness Week and gain insight into personal experiences.
“The bravery of people who have shared their stories is incredible after we have come to know these individuals through our services,” he said.
Mr Maddocks said the exhibition reflected the importance of connection with family, friends, pets, culture and community and the strength of people to focus on hope rather than desperation during challenging times.
“When you read the stories you gain unique insight into the tragedy of many people’s lives often due to circumstances beyond their control and instances where society has let them down,” Mr Maddocks said.
He thanked the Murray Bridge community for supporting the work of ac.care and said addressing homelessness required a united approach.
“There is a lot of work to be done in country communities to address homelessness and that often starts with agencies like ac.care working to keep people in their homes to avoid homelessness,” he said.
“But we also need more affordable accommodation and increases to JobSeeker to lift people out of poverty, as well as local solutions developed with the community to support people in times of need.”
He backed the National Homelessness Week theme of “to end homelessness we need a plan” and called for broad action to address the underlying causes of homelessness.
“This exhibition shares a message of hope and the importance of the community wrapping around people who need a helping hand - care and compassion for people who are struggling is an important part of who we are as a society,” he said.
The exhibition was officially opened by Rural City of Murray Bridge Mayor Brenton Lewis, who reflected on the increasing number of people facing housing stress due to the rising cost of living and lack of affordable homes.
“When you read the stories in this exhibition, you have to wonder where these people would be today without the support of ac.care,” he said.
“It does not take a lot in life, especially in these times, to find yourself in upheaval, but it is inspiring to see the messages of people finding stability in life to have the ability to hang in there.”
Development of the exhibition was led by Murraylands Homelessness Service manager Thanuja Hiripitiyage and staff at ac.care.
“We provided opportunities for people to contribute in different ways to share their experiences, which led to some really raw emotions,” she said.
Ms Hiripitiyage appeared on local radio in the lead-up to the exhibition, joined by one of the featured artists.
Visit the 5MU website or listen to the radio podcast below.
Clip length - 7 minutes 53 seconds
The young woman shared her story about moving to South Australia at the age of 5 with her parents, who were unable to secure accommodation and slept in their car under a bridge for months.
“We had to think about where we would sleep, what we would eat and when we could shower,” she said.
“But ac.care supported my family to find accommodation and my parents have now been in public housing for 20 years and are not struggling anymore – it shows that when families and individuals work with services there can be positive outcomes.”
She shared a photograph of her shoes, expressing her view people should not judge others on their appearance as they have not “walked in their footsteps”.
Ms Hiripitiyage said the exhibition touched on many themes, such as showing how family dynamics and violence can be a trigger for homelessness and how difficult situations can lead to addictions and health problems.
“There are some very striking and thought-provoking images and statements, with the pictures capturing the personal perspectives of people’s experiences, which can be very touching,” Ms Hiripitiyage said.
“We are grateful people we have worked with welcomed the opportunity to express themselves and thank them for their contributions to an exhibition that shared important messages with the community.”
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