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I was homeless at 15 - by Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith, Director and Auctioneer Marshall White Brighton

My name is Stephen and I'm a Director and Auctioneer at Marshall White in Brighton.  

I’m passionate about my work, my family, and also hold a lifelong love of opera singing. Prior to going into real estate I had a 20-year long career as a classical singer. I still do probably 30 to 40 performances a year and I do it for the love of it. 

If you met me, you'd have no idea that I was homeless as a teenager. 

Today, people entrust me to sell their homes that are sometimes worth in excess of $20 million dollars. My experience shows, homelessness can happen to anyone. It's not an identity. It's a stage that some people go through in their lives that they can get through if they receive the right help.   

I feel if I can help provide people a different view on what a homeless person can look like, I can help change perceptions of homelessness and show the potential of every person. Because if I didn’t have help along the way, I wouldn't be where I am today. 

I became homeless at 15 years old. 
I had moved in with my father following a decade in foster care. As I look back over my childhood and teen years, now with a recent diagnosis of ADHD, it makes so much sense that relationship quickly broke down. 

We were living in Port Fairy in the Western District of Victoria, and I was, to be frank, just bored and uncontrollable. I decided that coming to Melbourne and leaving school and leaving Port Fairy would be much more exciting. 

Initially, I was thrilled to be in the city, to be free in the world. I decided to stay with my former foster brother who'd been in and out of jail. But not long after having bunked in with him, he got arrested and thrown back in jail. I soon ran out places to stay in Melbourne and started couch surfing and staying in youth refuges. From there it was living in a squats to a few nights sleeping rough – I must say I was lucky that wasn't a big part of my experience.  

I was oblivious to the dangers that were around me and it wasn't until I got beaten badly that I realised how vulnerable I really was.  

Bloody and barely able to stand, I was taken to the emergency department of the hospital. They didn't even admit me and basically kicked me straight out.  

I remember getting back to the squat, to the blood covered room I’d been beaten, and coming to this overwhelming awareness of having no support, no safety.  

When you're homeless it's very difficult to get the help you need. You don't have people to give you advice. You don't have people looking over your shoulder. You don't have the same access to services as other people and you mostly don't have access to income. 

You're just adrift outside of the system. 

I managed to get a car and I lived out of it for about six months.  

I had tried other options, even meeting my mother for the first time and staying with her for a period of months. But ultimately, I felt I wasn’t home and or where I belonged.  

Home is really about a place where you feel safe with the people that are important to you. If it's not secure and it's not safe, it’s not really a home.   

At that time, my car was the safest emotional space for me. 

There were two key moments in my life that got me through to the other side of homelessness. It was a girl’s dad and music. 

So I had started seeing a girl and her father basically laid down the law and said you can stay with us, but you need to get a job. And I did. 

When you’re homeless, there aren't too many people who are telling you you've got this, or you're going to do something wonderful. So having a person there in front of me with a willingness to help, a willingness to lay down expectations, expectations to live up to rather than down to, was huge. 

The next big moment in my life was discovering opera.  


I was encouraged to get lessons and then to audition for the Victorian College of the Arts. At that stage it didn't matter if you'd finished school or not, it was all audition based, and so despite having dropped out of school in year nine, I was able to get a bachelor’s degree. This led to a career that I absolutely loved and adored.  

I went from having really no commitments and no desires to all of a sudden having this obsession that would turn out to be my great love for the next 30 years.  

I imagine there are a lot of productive people, people just like me, who are not able to do their best for themselves or for others because of circumstances beyond their control.  

We all need to ask “what can I do?” and whatever you have to offer up. Just offer it up. 

Launch Housing reached out to our business to see if we could help. And our answer was simple. Yes – what can we do? 

The more people that can engage, the more likely we are to come up with meaningful solutions that stick. 

We don't choose the genetics that we're given. We don't choose the challenges that are thrown in front of us. So the more we can do to help people out the other side, the better we feel about ourselves, the better they do, the better we feel as a society. 

As someone who's lived through homelessness I've been determined that my children will always have a safe home with me. And that's a space where emotionally they're safe, a space they know they can come back to any night, any time. 

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