A life, almost lost, reborn

Before: Craig, 43, three months ago after being bashed by a woman he knew. After: Craig in a recent Santa photo with Wollongong Homeless Hub manager Julie Mitchell. He’s now in rehab and getting his life back on track.The firstphoto shows a man who’s been bashed and battered –mentally as well as physically.The second, a clean-cut man getting into the spirit of Christmas.
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It doesn’tlook like the same man, which is fitting because Craig doesn’t feel like the same person either.

Seven weeks sober, the 43-year-old is confident he can finally change his life around –a life that has been plagued by alcoholism, homelessness and violence.

He started drinking at nine years old, was living on the streets by 13. He’s tried to get clean before, but ended up back on the drink to ‘’forget the bad times’’.

Then three months ago, Craig was bashed by a woman he knew on his birthday. After he was discharged from hospital, and back sleeping rough, a gang attacked him and broke his toes with a hammer.

It was then that he decided he’d had enough of that life, and withhelp from the Wollongong Homeless Hub and Wollongong Hospital he’s making a new life.

Now in rehab interstate, Craig wanted to share his story to let others in the grip of addiction,homelessness or at risk of violenceknow that help is available.

‘’It’s hard living on the streets –you’ve got to be careful where you sleep or you might get robbed or bashed where you sleep,’’ he said this week.

‘’You drink a lot to keep warm, to forget the bad times. But living rough, bunking in this house or bunking in that house, it’s not a life and I finally realised that that’s not the life I wanted anymore.’’

His transformation bringsJulie Mitchell -the manager ofWollongong Homeless Hub and Wollongong Emergency Family Housing –to tears.

It was Ms Mitchell, and her team, who picked Craig up –time and again –and who never gave up on him.

‘’I met Craig a year ago –he’d been assaulted then and his jaw had been broken and he came in one day and I gave him baby food to eat,’’ she said.

‘’Wetried to get him into rehab many times –it wasn’t that he failed, it was the system that failed him. He steadily went downhill and told me that he wouldn’t be alive by Christmas.

‘’We’ve finally found him the help he needs. However Craig’s story only highlights the absolute need in Wollongong for more housing, more crisis accommodation, and more money forrehab services.’’

Ms Mitchell hopes Craig stays on the right path; she’s pretty sure he will.‘’I’ve seen thechange in him –this time he’s really focused.’’

He recently came back for a visit to thank Ms Mitchell. They saw Santa in a shopping centre and decided to have a bit of fun and pose for a photo.

‘’I felt like a kid again,’’ he said. ‘’I’m not sure I ever got a photo with Santa before.’’

Illawarra Mercury

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