First, they took on homeless hygiene. Next, they’ll be tackling housing. We chat with One Voice Founder Josh Wilkins on his journey so far and plans for the future.
The Story that Inspired One Voice
Most people feel pretty chuffed with themselves after donating a gold coin or two. But One Voice founder Josh Wilkins is not most people. After an unforgettable encounter with a young girl one evening in Fitzroy Gardens back in 2011 the reality of homeless hygiene first became clear to him. The moment it clicked was when the young girl said to Josh “I’ve been out on the streets for two weeks. I’ve been abused in a public toilet block twice trying to bathe myself. Why does this keep happening to me?” Josh told us “I said, how old are you? And she said, I’m 12. So, that’s what started the whole journey.” And the rest they say, is history…
Well, not really. It was actually when his own hot water system failed him that he was really inspired to make a difference. “At that point, I decided to go out there in a camper van for six months hanging out with street people, kids, old, young – just to see what they needed”. Like a lot of Australians Josh had some pre-conceived notions about homelessness
“I thought homelessness was an old man, park bench, brown paper bag, alcoholic. And I was so wrong.”
It soon became clear to Josh just how complicated homelessness can be and, how sadly, mental health does play a part in why people end up on the streets.
The Catalyst for Elevate
Once again, another young woman sparked the catalyst for what would eventually become Elevate, One Voice’s Life Restoration Housing Community.
“She was seventeen under Flinders Street bridge suffered PNES. Which are Psychogenic Nonepileptic seizures. She had thirty to forty seizures a day because of the bad environment around her. Her dad yelling and screaming, she’d hear a loud noise and she’d drop head-first to the concrete and start having a seizure.”
Even once Josh took on the challenge of helping this young woman, it wasn’t as straightforward as he had initially thought.
“I tried every refuge in Melbourne, no one would accept her because of her condition and the legality’s if something happened in their premise. I took her to hospital they all said that she was doing it to seek attention which then opened my eyes to our mental health situation in Australia.”
Don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. They eventually found her housing in a refuge but she only had 12 weeks to turn her life around, which, in an average situation would be difficult for anyone but on top of everything else she was battling was near impossible. But she did it.
“We stayed in the picture and restored her back to her parents. She has done two diplomas in community services for drug and alcohol rehab and she’s fine now!”.
The Future of One Voice
So, what can we expect from One Voice in the future? Big things, of course. After realising that the biggest factor determining whether or not someone stays on track (and off the streets) was community, Josh set out to find a solution. He found it, all the way in Italy. One Voice modelled their housing program after one Josh experienced in San Patrinagano, Italy, where residents are given mentors to guide them through restoring their lives. Josh was so inspired that he developed his own, dubbed R.E.S.T which essentially provides people who have experienced homelessness or drug and alcohol abuse the chance to turn their lives around in a supportive and safe environment. In short;
“It’s alright to put a roof over someone’s head, but if the support’s not there to help them excel in life you’re not achieving a lot”.