John grew up in a large Sri Lankan family, migrants who turned a modest home in Noble Park in outer south-east Melbourne into the heart of a strong community. “We didn’t have a great house, but as a child I grew up in a nurturing environment. Noble Park at that time was farmland. I remember climbing up big willow trees, cows and horse and sheep.”
It has taken John many years to recapture that sense of home. Dogged by cancer and other serious health issues – and the financial, psychological and emotional struggles that followed – it took a decade before he hit rock bottom.
In his darkest time, a referral from the Aids Housing Action Group to Housing Choices became the impetus to rebuild his life. “From that moment on, I was nurtured because Housing Choices just said: “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.”
John’s journey with Housing Choices began five years ago in transitional housing in Camberwell before he moved to an apartment in Thierry St, North Melbourne. He loved the area but needed a quieter place to regain his health so jumped at the chance to make a new home in calm, leafy Chetwynd St. “I woke up the first morning here and said: ‘I’m home.’”
A walk around the neighbourhood with his dog Jacob invariably leads to new connections and friendships for John. “When I have new neighbours, I generally build relationships, saying hello, they meet my dog, they meet me and we become friendly.”
John has a well-tended patch in the community garden for his vegetables, and his cupboards and balcony are brimming with the exotic herbs and spices he uses to cook for family, neighbours and friends. “Community is all about people and with people. In social housing, my personal belief is that you need to come together.”