Pat Bramwell has experienced the harsh realities of homelessness on the Coast, after a family tragedy. Photo: Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Pat Bramwell has experienced the harsh realities of homelessness on the Coast, after a family tragedy. Photo: Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

‘Like you’re a leper’: Homeless struggles laid bare

WHEN Pat Bramwell's close relative succumbed quickly to an aggressive form of breast cancer, his family situation rapidly fell apart.

He felt his only option was to move out.

That's how he found himself living in his car about three years ago.

The 56-year-old hung tough for about four months before he reached out for help at a local community centre, before he linked with Sunny Street, a homeless outreach and medical service.

>> FUNDING HUNT UNDERWAY TO EXPAND VITAL SERVICES

A former hotel and resort worker, cleaner and farmer, Mr Bramwell said the "label of homelessness" became very apparent, very quickly.

"There's a real stigma," he said.

"As soon as they find out the label they put the distance between you, like you're a leper."

He said homelessness was "so widespread" in the region.

After about two years living in his car, with the help of Sunny Street and other services, he was able to secure housing, and a disability pension.

He suffered a long-term leg injury and mental health issues, which included a suicide attempt in the late-1980s, and he'd been through a marriage breakdown.

"I got into a very dark place," he said.

Nurse Sonia Goodwin and Dr Nova Evans, founders of Sunny Street, are chasing $80K in crowd-funding to expand their homeless medical service. Photo: Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Nurse Sonia Goodwin and Dr Nova Evans, founders of Sunny Street, are chasing $80K in crowd-funding to expand their homeless medical service. Photo: Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

He said the transition from homelessness to having permanent accommodation wasn't easy.

"I didn't feel comfortable in the unit," Mr Bramwell said.

He said external support services dropped off significantly when he was housed, but Sunny Street volunteers had helped connect him with services to ease the transition.

"The mind was just spinning a million miles an hour," he said.

"I felt trapped in the house, even though it was a safe place.

"It felt like you were isolated."

Mr Bramwell spent time in Cotton Tree, where a large number of homeless people gathered.

"Some stuck together, others you'd steer clear of," he said.

He said he saw the segregation from the general public first-hand there, and it was tough when local unit owners would call the police on them at night.

Mr Bramwell said marriage breakdowns and job losses were common causes of homelessness from others he'd spoken to over the years.

Despite his pension status, Mr Bramwell said he felt he had plenty to offer, and has undertaken courses in peer support and helped connect others with services in their time of need.

"You've got to give to receive," he said.

Pat Bramwell has experienced the harsh realities of homelessness on the Coast, after a family tragedy. Photo: Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Pat Bramwell has experienced the harsh realities of homelessness on the Coast, after a family tragedy. Photo: Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

Mr Bramwell said the community needed to give too, and not just financially, but even "just a conversation" could make the difference for a homeless person.

"The labelling and stigma needs to stop," he said.

"I'm just one of hundreds or thousands."

He said services like Sunny Street had been so effective because they related to the patients and put them at ease, rather than on edge.

If you or someone you love is in crisis or needs support right now, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636. If it is an emergency please call triple-0.


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