DAVID Montgomery believes he is living proof, in the most literal sense, that homelessness cannot be survived without support. Without intervention he would have died, he says, the trauma of life without a permanent home combined with poor health eventually grinding him down.
But the support that saved him came only through relentless searching and chance, he said, with many others not so lucky. ''If I hadn't found the right support I probably would not be here because I could not cope,'' he said. ''With homelessness … a lot of people have multiple issues and they need support, it's too much for people to deal with … the danger, the cold, not eating right.
''If they don't get that support they react and they go backwards and exclude themselves from the community and it makes things worse.''
Mr Montgomery, 57, spoke to The Age to coincide with today's launch of a Melbourne-first walk-in health service for homeless people. His own slide towards homelessness began after he was made redundant after a 20-year career at the State Emergency Commission.
He worked occasionally as a labourer but the mental toll of unemployment gradually overwhelmed him and, combined with other health problems such as diabetes and a blood disorder, caused him to end up in hospital a few years ago.
When he was discharged five months later weighing 46 kilograms, he was left with no home, shattered self-esteem and little support for his continuing health problems.
He was placed in a supported residential service in Melbourne with elderly dementia patients and no one to look after his needs. It took an 18-month search to finally connect with people who helped him access medical services, a search he believes could have been avoided if the Central City Community Health Service had existed.
The centre, located in a building donated by Melbourne City Council on Thierry Street near the Queen Victoria Market, will offer more than a dozen services including psychiatry, drug and alcohol services and podiatry. Council funded the $1.25 million fitout and will pay Doutta Galla Community Health to employ health professionals.
Mr Montgomery, who is now healthier and living in a sharehouse in Box Hill, said it was something no one should go through. ''I don't enjoy putting myself [out there publicly] but I'm doing it to make a difference,'' he said. ''It's not just people who are sleeping rough; the same philosophy applies to everything, in a situation when you're facing difficulties and there's no one there to support you … you fall in a black hole.
''Now it's like I've been reborn … I have been empowered.''
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