No matter who you are or where you have come from, poverty can strike anyone with a bit of unrelenting bad luck…
What springs to mind when you hear the word homeless? Perhaps a young runaway from a broken home, or maybe a substance abuser who cannot afford to feed their addiction. While these circumstances are common in reality, homelessness can take many forms, arising from circumstances that many of us cannot avoid.
Musician and actress O Koppes, told The Newsroom about her run in with homelessness. O. A letter with no beginning and no end, a symbol of eternity given to her by loving parents back in 1984. “She [O Koppes mother] came up with name because it is a shape that she loves and often uses the theme in her style of painting.” With her father being a musician and her mother a painter from an early age, O started to develop many creative talents such as acting, playing the guitar, drums, and writing her own music.
As high school was ending, O’s older sister was out at a live music venue when the booker offered to give her a gig. Also being musically talented but without a band, she recruited O and two friends to back her up whilst she sang. Despite receiving no rehearsal time, the gig was a success. “After that we were invited back to play every month and from there would be seen and invited to play other music venues, until eventually we had played most of the main live bars around Sydney before we even had a demo.” With every gig, O’s band ‘Bright Red’ received more and more exposure and leading to interest from managers and labels. At this stage, O chose to put her acting ambitions on hold and pursue a career as a musician.
“I always dreamed that one day I would live in New York City.” It was 2008 and Sydney’s music scene was going through a big change, with many live venues closing. “I felt that it was time to move on.” Despite not having much money and armed with a credit card, O booked flights to New York, placing her trust and future with the band.
Being on a tourist VISA, the first three months were very productive. “We decided to base ourselves in New York, started playing live shows, got a sublet for the summer and waitressing jobs together at the same restaurant.” Unfortunately, the beginnings of poverty for many begin as a series of unlucky incidents; events unfold like a domino effect, and the individual quickly spirals into a decline that they cannot control.
“During the summer, it is easy to get a sublet as a lot of the university students go home for the holidays, but now that uni was back on there was too much competition.” At the same time, the recession was beginning to amplify, causing O and the rest of the band to lose their jobs.
The initial interest in the band fed their passion to stay, but without working VISAs, O and her band members found themselves struggling just to find a place to sleep each night. “On stage we would sometimes announce that we needed a place to live. One day a guy came up to us and offered a room at his apartment and when we walked in, it was one of the most disgusting places I have ever been inside, not to mention the smell.”
Without any stable residency they would stay in a single apartment for 2-3 days at a time, and as soon as that would end, they would once again be searching for a place to keep them off the streets. “We couldn’t even think about the future and what we would do after the three nights, but somehow as soon as that would end, we would meet someone else who had a roommate who was away and would offer us a few nights too.”
O admits that the lowest she felt was on the nights that she didn’t have a place to stay, and would have to resort to meeting a random guy in a bar and wait till he invited her to his place so she could sleep in his bed. “I was never intimate with them when I did that, as I know that would have completely crushed my soul. The next morning they would be pretty unimpressed with me, but I was just happy to have slept in a comfortable bed.”
Over 100,000 Australians are homeless every night
O’s situation is officially classified Secondary homelessness under the United Nations. This category includes people who find themselves in a situation with “no place of usual residence who move frequently between various types of accommodations”. This includes houses and apartments, as well as shelters and living quarters designed for homeless residency.
In order to pay for food, O began working for an extras acting agency. These jobs helped O and her sister to pay for food, but unfortunately, the shifts are inconsistent and take a while to pay. “My sister and I developed what we called a “fear of starvation diet”, meaning that every time we got a meal, no matter how big it was, we ate all of it as we didn’t know for sure when the next one would come.”
O recalls one day where she felt particularly broken: “I cried a lot that day. I questioned why this was happening to us, and why some things came so easy for other people. I didn’t feel ready to go back to Australia but I wondered if we had any other choice.” At this point she clearly remembers something her sister had said to her, “We only think we should go back to Australia because we are afraid of worse things happening”, and then uttered the quote that would become their mantra there after: “What’s the worst that can happen? Let’s find out.”
The girls were homeless for exactly one month to the day before they were able to find jobs and a place to live stably. “It’s strange how life can take care of you when you have nothing else to rely on but the universe.” Despite O recovering from her situation and looking back on it as no more than a life lesson, through many factors such as recession, losing ones job or crumbling relationships, everyday many people find themselves descending into poverty to the point of no return. According to Homelessness Australia, more than 100,000 Australians will not have a secure place to sleep tonight.
O is now pursuing acting, her oldest passion and new ambition. As for the band, she recalls it fondly as something that will always be in her heart, but has “lost the drive to pursue music in an industry that doesn’t support the art of it, only the business.” – Holly Cormack
Top image from O Koppes’ Facebook page.