SEEING the kitchen of the Kelso unit was enough to convince Stewart that he’d found a home.
“As soon as I saw the four-burner stove, that was it,” he said this week as he recounted the steps that have taken him from homelessness to a place to call his own.
What was a bare unit now has all the small symbols of home: a television in the corner, a mug on the table, a chair in the sun out the back.
“I’ve got my own set up. I’ve got the pantry full, I have got everything organised, just about,” he said. “God willing and God with me, I’ll be able to kick along. I know it takes time, but I'll get along.”
Things were looking grim when Stewart, who had a “massive stroke” in 1996 and has a history of heart problems and homelessness, was forced to relocate from the private rented property he had found in Dunedoo, north-east of Dubbo.
While on the train heading home after a visit to Broken Hill last month, he blacked out and was taken off the carriage at Bathurst and rushed to hospital.
“While I was in hospital, a social worker came and saw me,” he said. “I was going to go back to Dunedoo, but, because of my medical problems, I could not.”
Stewart credits his support worker Carol McManus of Wattle Tree House with finding him a home.
Temporary accommodation was initially provided through the Department of Family and Community Services’ (FACS) Link2home program.
“Then I started liaising and advocating with FACS Housing to have ‘Stew’ put on the priority list for housing,” Ms McManus said.
“Because of his health issues, it happened very quickly.”
The unit has been furnished by Wattle Tree – which collects donated items from the community – and St Vincent de Paul.
“It's a godsend,” Stewart said. “If only for people like Carol and Wattle Tree I would probably be sleeping at a railway station - I would not, actually, I think I would be dead.”
Ms McManus said people might be surprised at the demand for the services provided by Wattle Tree House, which is a Bathurst housing and homeless service for adults and families.
On average, the seven staff “have 120 cases between us” and 12 intakes a week, according to Ms McManus.
Stewart said he was in the workforce for most of his life, but his health problems gradually “settled me right down”.
In the past, while homeless, he had slept on trains because he was concerned about being mugged while sleeping rough.
“But this is where I’ve ended up,” he said. “I'm happy.”