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A Sim City Safe Haven: Oasis

Shelter is deemed one of the fundamental necessities of humankind, without which the pursuit of happiness often becomes a futile endeavor. For young people who wind up on the streets long before they have even had the chance to understand what happiness means, their lives can spiral into a set of circumstances undesired by anyone with choice at their disposal. Thanks to Oasis, a division of Australia’s Salvation Army, hope need not be entirely lost. Sydney Harris can attest to that.

At 21 years old, Sydney has seen a lifetime worth of drama. Leaving home for the first time at 15, Sydney dropped into the vortex drug abuse – trying, liking, becoming addicted and eventually dealing to afford his lifestyle. Already captured by the leech effects of ice, base, and speed, Sydney suffered intensive withdrawal symptoms when he tried to kick the drugs after the police caught him at 16 – some of which included craving isolation and verbally lashing out at anyone who tested his desire for solitude. He moved from the home of one family member to the next, but his temperamental behaviour never sat well with his new roommates.

“I was having problems controlling myself. I wanted to get better, but it took a lot of time,” he describes.

“My perception was stuffed. You’re maybe 10 per cent of your normal self when you’re on drugs – after a year off of them, you may get to 50 per cent. With meth, whatever bad stuff you’ve heard, multiply that by 10.”

Finally, after a few months with his aunt in Queensland at 17, he decided to go out on his own and settled into a refuge. After a few months, he received a call from his mother telling him that his good friend from childhood was in a coma. Sydney gathered all his spare change and flew back down to Sydney. A week after he arrived, his friend passed away.

“I felt like something in my head blew off. It was anger like I had never felt before. I hated everything and everyone around me. Nothing was good anymore, so I started to drink, hectically. To the point where I couldn’t function.

Settling back in with his mother proved to be enormously difficult, so he left again – this time, into the city. Mad at the world, Sydney developed a “camping mentality”; sleeping in parks, eating breakfast and making calls at a refuge in Kings Cross and spending any money on alcohol. “Ironically, drinking saved my life. I was getting very criminally minded and it sort of numbed me.”

At some point during his three months on the streets, he found a drop-in refuge centre where he could sleep; a facility he describes as “atrocious.”

“It was terrible. There were addicts and ex-prisoners everywhere – I couldn’t do it anymore. I just kept thinking how f'd up it all was,” he says.
“I thought, ‘there must be people who have done this before’ – started with nothing and ended up with something.”

He eventually heard about Oasis, and came down to the Crown Street centre and told the staff he needed a place. After a few blurry days, Oasis helped him secure accommodation, and he finally had a clean roof over his head. This mere necessity allowed him to seek further help, such as assistance with RSA training and Medicare, which he also received from Oasis. From there, he got into the organisation’s Francis Street Transitional Housing Program, a semi permanent accommodation facility which provides stable and secure living bound by standard tenancy agreements. Sydney recently completed his Year 10 Certificate, and is looking to obtain a Certificate III in Health this year.

“Independence is everything… Having a place is essential in getting what you want out of life,” says Sydney.
“I would have been in prison If didn’t find this place… it is a necessity for people like me. We can’t do without it, and I would hate to see what would happen if it was not here.”
“I can relate to everyone here - I see something been through in everyone who shows up.
“It truly is a safe haven. Sorting yourself out takes time. People think this place feeds the fire, but it’s totally opposite – without it, we would be so much worse.
“It’s like a Sim City - if you build it, people will come.”

Sydney Harris

There are many ways you can support Oasis. You can learn, join the campaign, donate, or volunteer.


words: Seema Duggal

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