Sometimes you need help to get on the right track

Published on 08/05/2017

Raymond Morris with WESTS coordinator Franya Repolusk
Raymond Morris with Franya Repolusk (Coordinator of the Western Sydney Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service).

Raymond Morris is a public housing tenant who's very active in his community – he's mentored and supported hundreds of people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. He helps people in jail as well as in the broader community. Last year, Raymond put up a carport at his place to secure his car. However Housing NSW informed him that is was an illegal structure, ordered him to take it down, and also served him with an eviction notice. So he got advice from the Western Sydney Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service (WESTS) and went to the Tribunal. He was able to get a good outcome, which allowed him to keep his home and carport.

"For me to get where I am, I’ve worked hard. I made lots of mistakes and it’s taken me 43 years to get here, but it was a journey I had to take. I’ve got no regrets, because I’m here to tell the tale today. I’ll always be an alcoholic, but I haven’t had a drink for 11 years.

Drug and alcohol addiction is a terrible thing. A person can get into a bad cycle, become violent. If you’ve never been addicted you can’t understand the pull. It’s a horrible situation to be in, a disaster. And you need help to get out of it.

You might end up in hospital. But that doesn’t help because they keep you for two or three days and then put you out. And you go straight to the pub.

Or you might end up in jail. I’ve worked with a lot of men in jail – running AA meetings in Silverwater and other jails, all voluntary. Unfortunately that program has now been stopped. When the men get out they often feel like they can’t cope. Too many people have the attitude that “there’s nothing we can do for them.”

It can be really hard for some people to get on the right track. These people need help. Community workers are so important to pull a person out of a bad cycle.

I almost died when I was homeless. I was drinking methylated spirits and living on the streets. The community worker who helped me then is the only reason I’m here today.

I couldn’t do anything. I was in a boarding house for a long time, living in a tiny room. I’ll never forget the day my support worker said “There’s a letter here for you from Housing.” She said they had a place for me at Dundas. I ended up taking it and I never regretted it. It’s a lovely place. I’ve been there for 10 years now.

I’ve got the ability to go home now and switch off. I’ve got Bluey (my ginger cat) and a lovely garden with ferns and everything. I know everybody in the complex. There are about 15 houses – all over 55s.

Now I do volunteer work in the community everyday. I run AA meetings and I’ve volunteered with Exodus Foundation and Sydney Recovery. I’ve helped men who were in prison to get back on the right track, like I did. I get a natural high from helping people.

People say to me “I want what you’ve got”. I say to them, you’ve got to have hope. And you have to take action. I remember in the 1960s I was in the call-up for the Vietnam War. But the mothers all got together and we had the Moratoriam Marches to stop the war. You’ve got to be willing to take action.

What helps me to keep going everyday is that I’ve got a higher power in my life now. You can find peace anywhere – look at those birds. It’s a lovely day – start from there. But you can’t do it on our own, you’ve got to have help.

My old car got stolen, but I need a car to get to the different places I do community work. So my daughter agreed to sell me her second-hand car for a good price. She had seen that I had been sober for a long time, and she wanted to support me. (I’m so proud of her – she’s a manager for Qantas at the airport.)

Anyway, my new car was sitting around in the common car park, but it wasn’t secure. A few times the petrol got stolen out it, and I was worried that the car would get stolen too. So I put up a carport. It’s a temporary structure, but built properly to Australian standards. It was there for 12 months and no-one minded.

But then Housing found out about it and said ‘pull it down – you’ve got 6 weeks’. They also gave me a termination notice.

So I went to see my local MP Geoff Lee. He suggested I go and see the team at the Western Sydney Tenants Service.

I went in and I spoke to the Tenant Advocates. They told me, “We don’t like your chances but we’ll try.”

With the help of WESTS, we wrote letters to Housing and tried to negotiate back and forth. I can’t believe how hard the Tenant Advocates fought for me!

I went everywhere and gathered lots of information. I went to the local council to find out if there was any sewerage or anything that might be negatively affected by the carport. I got an engineer to inspect the structure and approve it. I gathered evidence to show that it wasn’t an inconvenience to the neighbourhood. I also made an application to speak to my Housing manager, but they wouldn’t see me.

Eventually we had to go to the Tribunal. The Tribunal Member asked Housing why the carport shouldn’t be approved, and they couldn’t say why. The Member also commented that Housing had been uncooperative. In the end, the Tribunal Member made an order that the carport be removed, but only in five years time. That was a victory for me! In five years I probably won’t be driving any more anyway.

I was crying on the day. I can’t even explain how I felt. It was overwhelming, very challenging and emotional. In the Tribunal I kept thinking, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to change the things I can.” Having that faith, and that courage really paid off in the end.

WESTS was really wonderful. Their service is terrific. They help people and don’t even want anything in return – the service doesn’t cost anything. It’s great to be able to get that sort of help. I try to give back what’s freely been given to me – it helps me to understand why we’re here.

It’s a wonderful thing that services like Western Sydney Tenancy Service exist. There are people in the community who really need these services. I have so much respect for the Tenant Advocates – I couldn’t believe how hard they fight for renters like me. They really listened to me, guided me and supported me.

When I hear that there are funding cuts to Community Legal Centres, I get upset. People have to have somewhere to go. There are a lot of people around who are struggling and unwell. And I mean that in a loving way. People can get better, but they need help. What’s the use of community services where they just say “seeya later?” There have to be proper services. The funding should be put back.

The people at the top are getting richer and don’t care about the poor. It’s got to stop. They should be putting the money back into the community.

We should all have the right to a fair hearing. I couldn’t have afforded a barrister or anything like that. I’m living on $300 per week – and most of that goes to paying my rent. There’s not much left after that.

At the Tribunal, my case was judged on the evidence – not on how I look or anything like that. Without the help from the WESTS, I don’t think I would have got justice at the Tribunal. But thanks to the Tenant Advocates I got a fair outcome."

Raymond Morris expressing support for the #fundequaljustice Community Legal Centre campaign
Raymond Morris expressing support for the #fundequaljustice Community Legal Centre campaign