Allan Connolly’s life was going according to plan. He and his wife Dawn had a lovely home in a wealthy Perth suburb. They were handling huge contracts for a distribution company. Mr Connolly was able to work from home to devote attention to their girls, then aged eight and 10.
“You know when you do a vision board?” he said. “I was living at the top of the cul-de-sac.”
But what happened next he never saw coming.
Dawn, 37 years old, a fit and healthy karate black belt, was diagnosed with bowel cancer. It had spread through her liver. She was told she had months to live.
“You can’t prepare for that,” Mr Connolly said.
“You’re just a statistic waiting to happen.
“But obviously, we didn’t treat it as a statistic. We scrambled, and did as much research as we could.”
They tried chemotherapy, they tried boosting her immune system. They grasped at alternative therapies. When they heard there was a doctor in Italy who might be able to help, they flew there.
“We had a lot of decisions to make very, very quickly,” Mr Connolly said.
The treatment was ruinously expensive and ultimately unsuccessful. Mr Connolly was forced to give up his big work contract as he scrambled to care for Dawn and the girls.
Dawn died 12 months after her diagnosis.
“I was angry for a long, long time,” Mr Connolly said.
He did whatever he could to survive and work and send the children to school, he said. He didn’t access any support networks. And the bank wanted their money.
Within three years he was out of money and the global financial crisis hit.
They moved out of the home Dawn passed away in, the first of multiple moves, and eventually there was nowhere left to go. Facing homelessness, Mr Connolly hit rock bottom and ended up in hospital, for his own safety.
In its way, he said, it was a Godsend. This was the first time he saw that there were support services available, and fortune struck: a subsidised crisis home in Girrawheen.
When his daughter turned 18, the crisis home became more expensive than rentals in that area, so they moved into a share house.
“It was almost like groundhog day. You wake up thinking, when is this going to end?” he said.
“But I knew the girls needed stability to get through high school and they were suffering enough, with their mum, and my mental health, and the peer pressure teenage girls go through at school. I needed to make sure they stayed on the right track.”
A daughter’s 21st birthday party, or even something as simple as a smell, can still overwhelm him with grief.
Mr Connolly said he wanted people to understand rough sleepers were only the most visible endpoint of a long journey.
People could be dealing with a breakup, a divorce or the loss of a child.
They were often only two or three paychecks away from disaster, and might not make rational decisions when under stress.
If they fell behind on the mortgage, banks were only too happy to default them, then it got harder to get another place to live.
An ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure.
“Keeping someone going at home might cost a few thousand but once they slip into the system, their mental health deteriorates, they hit the emergency room for an overdoses or an alcohol problem, then the costs spiral into the tens of thousands,” he said.
“But people don’t usually lose their homes because of drugs and alcohol – sometimes they turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for having lost their homes.
“Unless you have walked a mile in others’ shoes, how do you know what you would do?”
“I want to end homelessness in WA. And that’s why I’m going to keep telling my story.”
Homelessness Week runs from August 5-10, with art exhibitions, seminars, discussions, fundraisers, community forums across Perth’s CBD and suburbs. For the full events program, click here.
This article first appeared in https://www.smh.com.au/national/homelessness-was-not-on-my-vision-board-how-one-man-clawed-his-life-back-20190730-p52c4p.html By Emma Young