Salvos prioritise homelessness for appeal

Owen Davis says you've never felt fear until you feel that feeling of nothingness while homeless.
Owen Davis says you've never felt fear until you feel that feeling of nothingness while homeless.

Sleeping on the floor of a disabled toilet at a NSW train station when he was 13, Owen became addicted to drugs and found "paradise" every time he was sent to jail.

He had fled the housing commission home he lived in with his mother after a huge fight and soon stopped going to school because he was bullied for not showering and having clean clothes.

His life became a vicious cycle of drugs, crime and imprisonment in detention centres - where he savoured the free food, bed and shelter.

But this ended when he was sent to the Oasis Youth Support Network in Sydney's Surry Hills and met Salvation Army workers Paul and Robbin Moulds.

"They are my family, they literally loved me back to life," Owen said.

The musician and Sydney Film School graduate stood before more than 600 business leaders at a ballroom in The Westin on Thursday to share his story and encourage them to dig deep for the 2018 Red Shield Appeal.

This year's target is $73 million nationwide, with a goal of $26.2 million across NSW and the ACT.

"You have never felt fear until you feel that feeling of nothingness," Owen told the audience.

"The feeling of being so lost, even though you know where you are."

The young man was a teenager when he featured in the 2008 confronting and award-winning documentary on youth homelessness, The Oasis.

A decade on, the issue still frustrates director Ian Darling, a fellow guest speaker at the Sydney appeal launch.

"Homelessness should not exist in Australia. The community should be outraged by this human rights tragedy," Mr Darling, who was last year named the country's leading philanthropist, said.

"I didn't hear the word homeless mentioned once during the last federal election campaign nor in Tuesday's budget."

He voiced his concern over the frequent rotation of prime ministers, the three-year electoral cycle and the government's failure to halve homelessness by 2020 - as Kevin Rudd targeted in his 2008 White Paper on top of Labor's $6.1 billion affordable housing program.

"We need to lock in a substantial 25-year funding commitment to end homelessness regardless of who is in government - state or federal," Mr Darling said.

"Homelessness is not about sleeping in a cardboard box for one night. It is about years of poverty, trauma, abuse and neglect."

The NSW government has donated $200,000 to the Red Shield Appeal, with a doorknock to be held May 26-27.

The Oasis: Ten Years Later, about the transformation of the first film's participants, will be released in late-2018.

  • Australian Associated Press