Australians of all ages and backgrounds become homeless. In Cairns, more than 2000 people sleep on the streets every night, and across the country, that figure is more than 100,000. They are men, women and children from cities, country towns and suburbs we live in. And it’s a problem that is mostly hidden.
James Kwong hasn’t had a payday in 19 years.
James, known as Jimmy to his friends, is 64 and a French and Italian trained sous chef.
And he’s homeless.
Born in Albury, New South Wales, Jimmy worked as a kitchen hand and began his training as a chef before moving to Sydney where his father owned restaurants in Bankstown and Punchbowl.
In 1988 he moved to Hayman Island where he worked as a chef for 8 years before deciding he “wasn’t really interested in the food business”.
“I came to Cairns in 2005 and worked all over the place,” Jimmy said.
“I worked on Thursday Island, Tolga and even at the Purple Pub in Normanton for a while.”
Today, Jimmy’s days start before dawn. He lives in a bus stop in Cairns.
“I sleep there at night and get up and pack up my things before the sun comes up and the first buses start. I’m always gone before 6am,” he said.
Jimmy never married and has no children.
He lived in a six-cylinder Commodore for 16 years before paying registration became too expensive and he had to sell it three years ago.
“I sold the car and went on the streets because it was too expensive,” Jimmy said.
“I have to live on the streets now. Because it’s been so long that I’ve had no fixed address, Centrelink won’t pay me.
“But I don’t need money, just food. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs.”
And Jimmy knows where to go.
“I get around,” he said. “The local shops and some restaurants look after me and give me food that they don’t want to throw away.
“I don’t worry about these things, I’m okay.”
- The Stratford Medical Centre’s Wheels of Wellness program provides medical care to our community’s homeless and vulnerable.