Raise your hand if you have met a Premier and helped to get the ball rolling on $135 million of extra funding towards homelessness projects. No? Well, Brisbane vendor Shane can lay claim to doing just that.
Shane knows a lot about homelessness, having lived on the streets on and off since he was six years old. “I was a ward of the state, and kept running away,” he says.”I usually went to live with my street mum and dad, who just sort of found me. The older streeties look after the younger ones. If I went to my real mum and dad, welfare would find me easily, and take me back to the home.”
As he got older, Shane started living as a goth, complete with black clothing, spikes, make-up and nail polish. But when he started selling The Big Issue two years ago, he decided that ”presentation was important for sales” and switched to “mainstream” clothes. He is now a familiar sight on the streets of Brisbane in his beloved Cronulla Sharks football jersey and proudly bears the nickname Sharkey. His regulars like to stop and chat, and he particularly enjoys praise for diligence. “It’s great when someone tells me I’m doing a good job,” he says.
Shane is artistic and has many tattoos based on his own artwork (see Street Sheet for an example of his work). These days, most of his drawings are medieval, including dragons, goblins and eels. He has also taught leatherwork to younger streeties for Brisbane Youth Service.
Since starting with The Big Issue, Shane has made many positive changes in his life, including getting a house with his fiancee Bec, another vendor who he often sells with. “I used to live on the streets, no bills, no worries, but I’m quite happy the way things are now, paying bills,” he says. “I have my son and daughter to take care of.” He has 50/50 custody of one-year-old Donna, and he and Bec are seeking custody of their seven- month-old son, Shane, Jr.
While he likes the material changes, particularly having money, he also recognises personal developments. These include better communication skills and more confidence, which last year saw him approach Queensland Premier Peter Beattie on Brisbane’s streets to ask what was being done about homelessness in Brisbane.
The next day his picture was in the paper with the Premier. Soon after, Shane was invited to meet with Premier Beattie and his senior cabinet colleagues as part of a delegation from The Big Issue. This consultation contributed to an additional $135 million of the 2005-06 state budget being allocated to new homelessness services.
Shane looks forward to his regular, and new, customers coming to meet Bec and himself outside Borders in Brisbane City. He also looks ahead to more improvements in his life and happiness with his fiancee and kids. By his actions and initiative, he is a living example of the mantra, ‘be the change you want to make.’
by Craig Hill photograph by Paul Giggle
Originally Published in Big Issue magazine, February 2006