Grand final day 2002 is etched in James Little’s memory as one of complete disaster. Not only did his beloved Magpies lose to the Brisbane Lions by nine points, but the Morningstar Hotel in which he was living in Williamstown caught fire, destroying his room and several others.
"I lost everything I owned in that fire and that was the start of eight years of housing instability," says James.
James struggled to find any permanence in his living arrangements, slipping into homelessness three times for periods of months where he would sleep on the couches of friends or sometimes had to sleep rough.
"The only thing that matters in those times is finding a roof over my head. Even food is secondary because you know there are agencies in the community that will feed you. But often there was simply no housing available – for me, and for 20,000 other people on any given night – the best I could do was try to find a dry space with some protection," he says.
Yet finding a roof often came with a personal cost. During 2007-08 and again in the first six months of 2010, James was able to secure a bed in a rooming house on Hoddle Street, but found the constant noise from the traffic – which eased between 2.00-4.30am – resulted in chronic sleep deprivation, which was compounded by having no personal space.
"Any living situation in which you have to constantly share space with others is a grind. In rooming houses, you inevitably come across others that have issues and for whatever reason the close living that everyone endures means everyone’s on edge and arguments will break out," says James. "I didn’t have the privacy to live my life the way I wanted, and that comes with a loss of dignity."
Known to Yarra Community Housing for five years through their crisis accommodation, James finally got the housing break of a lifetime in 2010 when he was offered a brand new self-contained studio apartment in Richmond.
"The place has never been lived in, it has a lovely view over Richmond and has a back balcony where the magpies come each morning to scab some breakfast. While I still have that lingering fear of being homeless again in the back of my mind, I’ve definitely put the coat rack up and hung my hat on it," he says.
"I’ve got a good relationship with my landlord, Yarra Community Housing, and they’ve told me I can stay here until they carry me out in a box, and I’m happy with that. That kind of security of tenure has had such a positive impact on the quality of my life."
Another critical element to that quality of life is James’ ability to start working again. Having studied journalism and social sciences at university, he has a strong interest in Australian literature and community issues, and is a presenter (aka ‘Jimbo’) on the Roominations program, Thursdays at 12 noon on Community Radio 3CR on 855AM. Roominations is the only radio program on air that provides homeless people with a soapbox to discuss issues.
James is also working on a project-by-project basis with a business that installs office fitouts across the Melbourne area.