SHELTER: John Crisp, having lived on the streets, is now helping others in the same situation.
SHELTER: John Crisp, having lived on the streets, is now helping others in the same situation. David Barwell

A place to call his home

JOHN Crisp is what you might call a survivor.

Providing support to those at disadvantage and at risk in our region, he's a man many on the Coffs Coast would know.

But behind his kind smile, lies a past that at times has been horrific and destitute.

Having experienced years living on the streets, he's now supporting others in need. The Advocate sat down with John this week to hear his story, or at least part of it.

John was born in 1960 in Lithgow. His biological parents had left him in a "shoebox", and John was raised by a single mother.

At age 12, his mother died of pneumonia and John spent his later teenage years raised by his stepsister, aged in her young 20s.

"Just before mum died she told me I wasn't hers. At 12-years-old I didn't really understand it all, then two weeks later she passed away. I was just devastated."

At 13, he met his childhood sweetheart, Kym, but John said he found school difficult - experiencing "an unbalanced feeling" that continued into adulthood.

"I just moved through life, I was looking for that sense belonging," he said.

His relationship with Kym ended and in his later teenage years relocated to Portland where he found a job in the cement works.

He opened up about his drinking, saying it had led to the catalyst for the darkest period of his life.

John had a child in Lithgow, who he later lost custody of and contact with.

"When I lost custody I moved to Sydney. I thought 'I'll get a new start'," he said.

"But you take yourself with you."

Months sleeping under Sydney's Domain and Central Stations turned into years.

While living on the streets, he was a victim of abuse and numerous physical attacks.

"You don't understand what it's really like until you're in that situation."

At the lowest point, the experience almost claimed his life, but led him on the path to find help.

In 1990, he went in to rehabilitation.

Despite seeking previous medical help, it wasn't until he was in his early 40s he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

John's been sober for nine years, and 15 months ago reconnected with Kym who was living on the Coffs Coast.

He also reconnected with his son, and granddaughter.

Since relocating to Coffs Harbour, John volunteers with Partners in Recovery, the Coffs Harbour soup kitchen and runs a weekly coffee morning for people at risk.

He said the numbers of those on the streets have swollen in Coffs, and each sunset brings unease for those seeking shelter.

John advocates a stronger inter-agency approach to address homelessness in our region, and approaches to help find people their sense of belonging.

"By sharing my story I think it gives people a broader picture of what a homeless person is.

"There are so many reasons why people are homeless or in need of a meal."

John was one of 60 residents who took part in the 2016 C.ex Community Crew Sleepout.

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