Homelessness Week 2022: Dion reveals story of losing everything
The day Dion Grahame packed up his tent from his mother’s backyard and moved it to bushland along the river in Shepparton was the hardest of his life.
“It tore my heart out, I grew up in that house,” he said, tears in his eyes.
“I know I’m a grown-a** man, but I felt like a failure. My mum knew I was going to live down in the bush, I’m sure she wanted more from me than that.”
Six years ago, the home he was living in was sold, forcing him to pool his life savings into a caravan that sat in his mother’s backyard.
When a gas bottle leak set the van alight, he lost everything he owned and was forced to move into an unpowered tent near the ashes.
That was six years ago. Dion is still homeless.
He is a disability pensioner, missing several toes and with bulging discs in his back and limited movement in his left arm.
Those first full nights in the bush were as tough as any he’d faced.
“I was full of depression the first few nights, so I didn’t sort of take it all in until a week later that there’s no further down,” he said.
“Well there is further down, because I could have been there with a needle in my arm, but I’m not gonna do that, so for me there was no further down than living out the bush with no power.”
Dion spoke to the News originally planning a protest in front of some services in the city, but said he didn’t want to cause trouble for services in Shepparton and Mooroopna.
“I don’t want to say a bad word against the local guys ... their hands are tied,” he said.
“Rural housing, they helped me as much as they could, which I really appreciate.
“My Salvation Army worker really tried to help me, full points to him. He brought me tarps and a sleeping bag to stay warm, but I’ve still ended up in the bush.”
Dion has been on a list for crisis accommodation for six years, but at some point along the road he changed phone numbers, which he was told reset his position on the list.
Dion joked that his tent was the “Hilton” of the camp next to the river, but living among drug addicts, squabbling partners and even a mother with young children was crushing.
“You’re constantly thinking: Where am I gonna stay tonight? Am I going to be warm? Is it going to rain? I’m hungry.” — Dion Grahame
He has to carry everything of value, every bit of food, with him whenever he leaves camp.
“Anything that’s worth anything, it’s gone, bang down to Cash Converters,” he said.
“I feel like hanging myself. I really do. I won’t, but it’s just the feeling you get. That worthlessness.”
Dion said the looks he got on the street cut him deep, but the indifference cut deeper.
“I see a lot of the houses, they were empty for over two years. My god, I couldn’t believe it. It makes me feel so bad. It’s hard, it’s really hard and it's very shameful,’’ he said.
“What you wish people knew about the severity of the problem.”
Dion said his fight-or-flight sense was permanently activated, and he spent every waking moment stressing about where he was going and if he was safe.
“It takes up 100 per cent of your thinking. It’s like a full-time job, you know what I mean?” he said.
“You’re constantly thinking: Where am I gonna stay tonight? Am I going to be warm? Is it going to rain? I’m hungry.”
Empty homes frustrate him, as do the expanses of land around Shepparton-Mooroopna that could fit hundreds of homes, or empty blocks that could fit high-rise emergency accommodation.
Dion said the city needed more facilities like the old Mooroopna hospital, which has been converted into crisis accommodation.
“We need more things like that hospital. I know high rises can breed crime, but we need bigger structures, bigger planned roll-outs of houses, things like that,” he said.
“My mum knew I was going to live down in the bush, I’m sure she wanted more from me than that.” — Dion Grahame
“It just feels like a second thought or an afterthought.
“Government and housing ministers ... surely they know there’s a huge housing shortage. Something has to be done.”
He said a private rental on a disability pension was out of the question with rental prices skyrocketing, and while he understood why women and children got priority on waiting lists, the lack of transparency the sector’s bureaucracy was frustrating to watch and left many single men fending for themselves for years.
While he wants those in power to do something — build more homes, fund more services, get people off the streets — Dion wanted people to know many people didn’t choose homelessness.
“There’s a lot of mental anguish comes along with it,” he said.
“I’m full of depression. I just want people to know how hard it is on the basic person.
“I just want people to care.”
If you or anyone you know is experiencing or at risk of homelessness, contact BeyondHousing on 1800 825 955. If you need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.