In the last two days, I have heard three stories of runaways. Two of these people are now adults, and happily survived their tumultuous history. The other story I heard of, is about a little girl. We don’t know the full details as yet, only that she has been found. We hope she is happy, my friends and I. I was filled with dismay at how quick commentators on social media were to judge her. They said she needs a belting, to be screamed at, demeaned, reduced… Twenty years after my time, it seems as though empathy is not forthcoming from all. A man I greatly respect told me that he slept on the streets of Sydney for four years as a youngster. He chose homelessness over staying in a house with a violent father. Another friend left at sixteen. “It was either run or die.” Some choice. I ran away for the first time at four years of age. I wanted to make it to my friend’s house. It was calm there. Instead, I was pursued, then beaten, and told that I would never get away. It didn’t stop me trying. I wanted the pain to stop, to see who I could be and what I could do in this world. It was a positive gesture, assuring those on the periphery that I valued my life and wanted to live. I wanted to try.
Bad men came forth with generous offers of places to stay from twelve to fourteen. “How kind,” my mind whispered, before a cacophony burst forth from my intuition. “They will destroy you!” I declined numerous offers, and watched in despair as two of my young friends died whilst being sheltered by these characters. I rang a host of numbers on a payphone at fourteen, begging someone, anyone, to help me. The criterion was very specific, and you had to fit into the parameters. I was told I was too young, too old, and on and on it went. At fifteen, I was found after running away from a clinic. I was taken to the local police station. When I was told I would have to sleep in the cell in the corner, and I gratefully thanked them, they knew things were bad. They found me a bed in a refuge, the only bed free in the whole of Sydney. I was taken there at 11pm, and a bleary-eyed social worker opened the door. I fell on top of the mattress in the share room, and lay awake, wondering what was going to become of me.
In the morning, the boy’s came from their room, and we from ours. There were eleven of us. We sat at the battered dining table, and a young man wondered aloud what would happen to him when he turned sixteen, in a week’s time. He was trying to go to school, and would soon be without a bed. I was shown a binder filled with resources for kids like myself. You could have a shower here, then lunch here. By a miracle, a bed might show up over there… Nothing was coordinated. “You have to do a lot of travelling when you’re on the streets,” the social worker said. I came to the refuge with nothing, and the toothbrush, washer and soap I was given meant the world to me. I felt as though my identity had been reduced… Over the years, I have known many runaways, both teens and adult survivors of abuse. Their leaving had nothing to do with tiffs over freedom. Rather, they were fighting for their lives.
A friend of mine runs Street Pax, a wonderful incentive she started alone. She sources donations of useful foodstuff and toiletries, and prepares packs. She then delivers them to those on the street. They are always gratefully accepted. I will never forget my toothbrush, washer and soap. For further information, or to donate, please go to Street Pax on Facebook.