Dean recollects how things have changed since Brisbane Common Ground opened four years ago. “When I first moved into the building in late 2012, it was a pretty wild, wild west place. But now a lot of people who have moved in have started to find their feet; they came here with a lot of issues, but now they have started to settle down and get along with each other.”
Dean talks openly about the difficulties of being homeless or housed inappropriately, the feeling of being unsafe, insecure and not belonging and remembers how happy he was to find a home again. Dean said he found himself homeless a few years ago when his share-house became unsafe due to alcohol-fueled violence. “I wasn’t going to stick around anymore. I packed my car and drove off,” he says with conviction. With no friends in Brisbane, Dean sought shelter in crisis accommodation and then moved to a hostel in the inner-city. “I asked not to be placed in a hostel where there were drinking problems,” he says. “The first place I got housed was completely unsuitable. From sun up to sun down the other tenants sat in the common lounge and kitchen and drank wine. I’d walk out of my room and there were people lying on the kitchen table sleeping. I think I lasted eight weeks.”
Dean shares that it was his Counsellor that pointed him in the right direction. “When I went to see my Drug and Alcohol Counsellor she said ‘Look out that window – look across there – see that white building’ and she pointed out this building. She said ‘You need to get into that building. That’s where you want to be. It’s going to have every service you’ll ever need and there will be people there to help you’.”
Dean says he immediately took steps to register with the Department of Housing and Public Works and was sent for an interview with the Brisbane Homelessness Centre. “Then I waited and I waited. I was so worried I wasn’t going to get in. I said to my Counsellor, what if I don’t get in, what if they say no and she had to really reassure me.” Dean remembers how happy he was when he was offered a unit at Brisbane Common Ground. “I was so rapt. To me this is a beautiful building, it’s all brand new. I like nice things; I like to have the place nice.” Dean says the standard of the building was very different to other places he had experienced. “I have lived in other men’s hostels in Brisbane and they are atrocious and dirty. Once I paid $189 a week for a room that was as big as my bathroom. It had sub-standard bedding and a little round sink in the corner and the kitchen had a film of dirty grease and grime everywhere. I thought to myself – isn’t there an agency out there that goes and spot checks all these hostels to see if they’re being run correctly or cleanly?” Looking back, Dean says he is so grateful for his Counsellor’s help and support to find Brisbane Common Ground.
So what does Dean think about Brisbane Common Ground nearly four years on? According to Dean he still loves his home and the fact that it is so close to everything he needs, but he also has a realistic view of living in a high density environment. Dean highlights how important it is to take extra care to be considerate to each other. “We all have rights, but we also have to respect other people’s rights – it’s about give and take, you know. That’s the only issue I have at times,” he says.
Dean is a firm believer that it takes courage and persistence to transform destructive habits or make positive life choices. “You have to try. You just have to keep trying. Just pick away at the rock – eventually there will be some change. My mum taught me that.”
Dean also thinks it must be hard on the staff sometimes to take care of the issues in the building and to juggle all the competing demands. But he is quick to point out that he feels safe and secure because of the 24/7 concierge service and says that even though there are people with substance-abuse problems living in the building there is a code of behavior that tenants need to abide by.
Brisbane Common Ground is more than just a home to Dean. “I’ve also started to work with Common Ground Queensland in the Function Rooms which is quite good – I like doing that work. It gets me out of my room, doing something. It also gives me responsibility and its going along quite nicely. Sometimes it gets quiet, but other times it gets full on – it’s good.” Dean says he started as a Volunteer about two and a half years ago, but is now a Casual Employee and works between four to six shifts each fortnight.
Finally Dean shares that he has made some good friends in the building. “I didn’t know anybody in the building when I moved in. Now I’ve got some good friends – there are a lot of lovely people here.”