Walking away from the small community centre, past the sitting smokers, down the path in the warm sunshine, he stops and calls me Pete.
‘Pete, there are a lot of people on the streets who could get up if they wanted to but they don’t want to.’
I nod in agreement, ‘None of us make any changes in our life unless we really want to, so I guess that applies to people on the street too.’
‘I was homeless you know Pete,’ he says. ‘But I got myself up. Drugs are the real problem. Drugs and alcohol. I’ve never used drugs but alcohol was my problem.
‘But after I did 15 years straight of a 20 year sentence, the last thing the parole officer said to me was, “Are you going to give up drinking?” and I said, “Yes.”‘
And I haven’t drunk for 34 years.
‘That’s an inspirational story, you’re a great example,’ I say.
He chuckles, and fixes his ebony eyes on me and I feel privileged that this elderly man who carries a remarkable sense of wisdom and dignity, chooses to tell me his stories, week after week.
‘There was one time when I was drinking that I got picked up on the street by three policemen and put into a police van with three deros. When we pulled up at the station we all got out of the van and the police each took one of the deros into the police station and I walked straight across the road and into the Oxford Hotel,’ he says with a chuckle.
He talks about people in prison who ‘became’ Christians to get out of the big house. ‘I’m not a Christian, never will be, but I wouldn’t do that, just put it on.’
He recalled the advice of his mother. ‘She told me that God keeps way off in the distance and always has his eye on us. He’ll get them…’
Might not be great theology but I can feel the faith in this man, I can feel that he has a closeness to God that is born of respect, honour and honesty. One day I might just get to help him see it. I am encouraged. PH