The fear and vulnerability of living life on the streets is expressed beautifully by Matt Vapor, an educated man and professional speaker who also knows what it is like to be homeless.
Matt recently shared his story with new employees at an induction in August, and feedback from attendees was that it really connected them to the reason St Bart’s is here and why our wonderful staff do what they do.
Matt lived with domestic abuse as a child and left home for the comparative safety of the streets. This was only after all other doors were closed to him, when his estranged parents discouraged other family members from supporting him.
He slept on the streets around the Rockingham foreshore at the age of 16 and spent a year there – he still deals with the shame and trauma from that experience 20 years later.
He remembers feeling invisible on the streets, but mostly starving and scared. He survived by eating other people’s leftovers from foreshore cafes and fast food restaurants.
Matt also remembers the cruelty and violence – not from others living on the streets but the young drunk men who would come out of pubs and clubs on weekends and find kicking or urinating on a homeless teenager to be a source of entertainment.
One night he was enticed by a group of teenagers to follow them with the promise of some food. He got a shocking beating instead.
The kindness of one woman, an old family friend, turned Matt’s life around. She took him in and supported him to apply for TAFE and successfully complete courses. He went on to achieve a Bachelor in Sociology and International Studies and a Masters in Information Management at university.
Despite his tenacity and drive, all the while being ashamed of his previous homelessness, Matt struggled to keep work and relationships as a result of the anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder that he was diagnosed with later in life – a direct result of domestic abuse and life on the streets.
“My only good memories of that time were on the dog beach at Rockingham, because dogs don’t discriminate or judge like people do, and they liked my smell. I wish people were more like dogs.”