After a relationship breakdown, 55-year-old Byron’s life spiralled and he was resigned to life on the streets. Now he has a home, a community of friends at Wayside Chapel, and most importantly hope for the future.
A proud Wiradjuri man who grew up in a small town in the central west of NSW, Byron never lived far from the damaging impact of addiction.
Father to four beautiful boys, he tried to stay one step ahead of the alcohol and drugs that wreaked havoc in his community. With his characteristic zeal, Byron worked hard at jobs on the railways, on building sites, as a teacher’s aide in the classroom, and as a hospital cleaner.
“I would push 50 to 60 wheelbarrows of concrete a day, then I would go home and wash, clean, iron, garden. I loved doing it,” he says.
But amid a relationship breakdown, and other traumas, Byron turned to drugs and gambling.
“I lied many times. And excuses, I wrote the book of excuses. I’ve used every excuse in the book to get drugs, to rob people, to fight people. There was a lot of shame, guilt, embarrassment and disrespect towards pretty much everyone. I pushed so many people away, family, friends. I just didn’t care about anyone, let alone myself.”
For most of these years, Byron’s daily preoccupation was survival – preparing for another night on the streets.
“I would walk the Long Walk Home ten times over in one night. I would just walk and walk and walk, trying to find a place to sleep. For years I’d wake up at railway stations, in parks, on football ovals, down in rivers, often cold and freezing in the middle of Winter. I was blessed to be waking up at all. It was a bonus if I had another day of life,” he says.
The turning point came when Byron discovered Wayside Chapel, which was just down the street from his first secure housing in many years. At Wayside, Byron found a safe space where he was invited in for a cup of tea, and a chat with no judgement. He started spending most days at Wayside, eating lunch in the cafe, attending outings and making a strong, vibrant community of friends. Staff encouraged him to seek support for addiction (he’s now attending meetings six days a week), and he’s even signed up to start volunteering at Wayside himself.
“Since finding Wayside, I haven’t looked back. Everyone has welcomed me with open arms. At Wayside they make you feel like you are someone. They showed me that there is such a thing as life after using.”
Today Byron is focused on his health and wellbeing and is thrilled to be taking on the challenge of the Long Walk Home. Alongside Theresa, his care coordinator at Wayside, he’s preparing for the event, by eating healthy and walking kilometres every day.
“I don’t want to end up on a park bench again. I’ve got too much to lose. Where I’ve come from to where I am today – it’s like experiencing the rain, and then finding a rainbow with a pot of gold.”
Byron is inviting supporters of Wayside to join him on the Long Walk Home in October and take steps to help people like him who have experienced the isolation and pain of homelessness.
“I’ve been given a second chance in life, and that’s what you can give someone else if you join me on this walk to raise money for Wayside Chapel.”