Young and invisible: WA man’s four-year battle to get back on his feet

Sun McIntyre, 27, never realised he was homeless until a photography project by a not-for-profit made him see his three-year ordeal to find a home was more than simply moving around.

A misunderstanding and a messy gender transition is all it took to make him pack his bags and walk out of his father’s Perth home in 2015.

The then-23-year-old had just moved to Perth from Scotland chasing a fresh start, but growing tension over his gender transition and a cannabis habit he couldn’t shake pushed him out into the streets barely a week after landing in Australia.

Lost, confused and in a panic, Mr McIntyre called Lifeline, jumped on a train and moved south to Mandurah where Calvary Youth Services welcomed him into their residential program.

“I told myself alright, you’ve got three months to sort your life out, you can either get really stoned or get your life together,” he said.

“I’m not going to end up on the streets, I’m going to work out a way.”

Three months turned into three years of moving from support service to support service, sleeping in shelters, temporary accommodation, squatter houses and friends’ couches while he waited for a high priority Department of Housing home.

Determined to turn his time around regardless of his situation, he managed to get a certificate III in construction, pass his driving test and get a job at a local supermarket but he was still unable to find permanent accommodation.

Some relief came when Mr McIntyre was accepted into the Perth Initiative Youth Centre housing program, where he was introduced to photography through the Home is Where my Heart is program, a mentorship initiative connecting emerging photographers and young people at risk of homelessness.

The program gave Mr McIntyre purpose, encouraged him to reconnect with his creative self, helped him better manage his mental health and realise he was homeless for the first time.

“Photography gives you that relief, it makes you feel normal even though you don’t have to be good at it, it makes you feel alive in a very strange sense,” he said.

“The photography was showing me in a very nice sincere way ‘you’ve been through this, but it’s OK’, it helped me admit to myself that I was homeless.”

However, when he turned 26, barely a year after moving into his accommodation, he was forced to leave, too old to access youth services.

Back in the streets, he experienced first-hand the gap between youth and adult support services as he moved around from home to home.

In April, after a three year wait, Mr McIntyre was finally assigned a small Department of Housing unit in Fremantle, a place to finally call home.

He has a job in a local cafe, does volunteer work at a charity shop and sings in a choir to elderly people with dementia once a week.

A natural optimist, Mr McIntyre is determined to encourage young people doing it tough to fight for a better future and to reach out to available support services.

“The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel influences the way you act,” he said.

“People need to believe, believe they can do it. When I was going through homelessness my ex stopped believing in me, my dad and I weren’t going well, so I didn’t have anyone believing in me. I told myself I’m going to believe in myself, I believe I can do this.

“Many youngsters are really fragile, they need somebody to believe, and that’s why the youth centres help them believe they have a purpose, if no one believes in them that’s when sometimes they resort to violence, theft, drugs and all that. It’s all about believing.”

He would like to see homelessness awareness introduced in schools earlier on to educate young students about available support services in case they themselves end up on the street in the future.

Mr McIntyre also wants to see more funding being funnelled into the many services that helped him get back on his feet.

“Homeless is disguised in many thousands of different ways it doesn’t have to be sleeping rough, it can be sleeping in your car and going to work,” he said.

“It can be an argument with your mum and dad and they disagree with you and you rtun away. I did come from a good family, I got everything that I need.”

Mr McIntyre’s photographs will be on display as part of the Home is Where my Heart is exhibition, a retrospective photographic exhibition showcasing the work of 76 young people who have experienced homelessness in the last eight years.

The exhibition will be open to the general public at Brookfield Place from 7am to 6pm on weekdays from August 5 to August 16.

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.

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