Surviving Homelessness and COVID-19: Freddy’s story

Freddy* is a Lebanese man who lived through most of the Lebanese Civil War.

“My brother was shot, my cousin killed, my dad captured… to cut it short, I had to escape Lebanon by boat to the Greek Islands, where I waited for a visa to come to Australia. That took two years.”

He built a life in Australia from scratch, learning English at RMIT, gaining work and, pursuing his love of cooking, was able to start his own café. He also built relationships, was married and had two daughters.

Sadly, after a bad relationship break down, he was left with nothing.

“I was on the streets. I went from being okay to having nothing. I was homeless.

“During the war, and even now, you could say Lebanon is a third world country. However, we’ve never, or I’ve never seen, anything like this in the worst days over there. But to see it here in Australia, it’s a sad thing. I mean a rich, beautiful country…”

Freddy was supported this year by a Covid Isolation Recovery Facility for people experiencing homelessness operated by Launch Housing in partnership with Brotherhood of Saint Laurence and St Vincents Hospital Melbourne.

He had been without a home about a year before started having health issues then was struck by COVID-19.

“I had been sleeping in my car for three and a half days with a temperature of 43 degrees. Somehow, luckily, I answered the phone when my cousin called.

“I was taken to hospital, to intensive care, with liver failure, chest infection, infection in the bottom of my lungs, pneumonia, and COVID-19.”

Freddy says he is grateful to have quickly recovered and to be supported by Launch Housing.

“Whoever is up there didn’t want me yet. He said, ‘Go back down, you’ve got a lot to do.’ They moved me to the recovery facility from the hospital. And that was an amazing experience with the people there.

“Every time I talk about them, I feel like crying because they were so good, not only to me, but to every other patient. They treat you like family. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Now placed in emergency accommodation in a hotel, Freddy makes good use of his basic kitchen facilities, often sharing his food with staff and other residents.

“I’m very passionate about my cooking. I cook with love and flavour, and I love sharing whatever I can.”

Freddy is looking forward to a future with more cooking, playing music (an avid percussionist and player of the tabla), but believes more must be done to address homelessness in our community.

“I believe in one thing: one hand can’t clap. I never used to believe I needed any help, even in my worst days. I thought I always could help myself and others, but then no, we all need help.

“We need more people to be helped by whoever, government and private funding because there’s a lot of needy people in the city. They need help and deserve to be living in comfortable places. I wish I could do more.”

*Name has been changed by request.