Finding himself homeless at 13 Owen Davis caught a train to Wollongong where he has returned as an adult to support the Salvos

Owen Davis
Owen Davis

At 13 years of age Owen Davis found himself alone and on the street.

Not knowing what to do he jumped on a train and hopped off in Wollongong with nothing but the clothes on his back.

Overcome with fear he slept in a toilet at the station which continued to be his life for the next three months.

He eventually turned to drugs and crime so he could eat and his life spiraled into a vicious cycle that made him lash out at strangers.

Mr Davis's powerful story of how the Salvation Army and music helped him turn his life around inspired many at a Red Shield Appeal launch in Wollongong.

So much so it helped kick start fundraising for the annual door knock this weekend with $66,000 from the Illawarra business community.

A decade ago Mr Davis was the subject of an award winning film called Oasis that brought national attention to youth homelessness.

But this weekend he is encouraging Illawarra residents to help save more lives like his.

He said every life is worth saving and thanks to the Illawarra business community many people are being helped by the Salvos.

"Thank you for your generosity and giving hope where it's needed most," he said.

Tax-deductible donations can also be added to the Red Shield Appeal via the Salvation Army website.

Money raised at the launch and during the annual Red Shield Appeal door knock will help Carinya Cottage offer safe accommodation, counselling and case management to women and children escaping violence or at risk of homelessness.

Many raised in the Illawarra will also help the Salvation Army's First Floor Program support groups, run counselling sessions, creative art workshops, and practical information for families impacted by drugs, alcohol and or mental health issues.

Mr Davis said no one set out to be homeless but 170,000 people in Australia are presently homeless.

"I never thought it would happen to me," he said.

Raising hope: Owen Davis story of desperation that led to one of hope captivated 150 business people at City Beach Function Centre. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Raising hope: Owen Davis story of desperation that led to one of hope captivated 150 business people at City Beach Function Centre. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Mr Davis said his family life was not good before he became homeless.

"There was always violence, drugs and alcohol," he said.

"Growing up life was hard. I moved around a lot with my mother.

"I never really had a stable home to live in until the age of 11. And even then it was in a run down Housing Commission estate in an area full of crime".

When Mr Davis found himself on the street at 13 after a fight with his mum he said he had nowhere to go and nowhere to turn.

"In an instant my life went from complicated to very frightening," he said.

"You have never felt fear until you feel the feeling of nothingness. The feeling of being so lost even though you know where you are. "I jumped off the train three stops later at Wollongong. Overwhelming thoughts clouded my brain and I was thinking jail would be easier than the situation I was in.

"That night I had nowhere to go. So I slept at the train station. I had no idea what to do".

Not knowing how to survive on the streets he began hiding in disabled toilets and slept on the cold floor. But it was one place he felt safe and did it for three months.

He tried to keep going to school but not having access to clean clothes and a shower meant he got bullied.

"Some of the toughest moments in my life to this day were when I lived in that train station toilet," he said.

"Suddenly something inside me changed. In my heart I knew I was good but at this point in time I wasn't so sure. I was angry all the time. I would curse and lash out at strangers. Tired of being constantly broken and sick from the cold nights I tried drugs".

At first the drugs provided an escape from reality. But soon he found himself addicted and used them daily to hide the pain.

He felt sick all the time and was sleeping on park benches and sidewalks.

Mr Davis was so desperate he turned to crime because it was the only way he could find to survive and eat.

He soon found himself in detention centres.

They felt like a safe place because they provided him with a free meal and a roof over his head. And that helped him be drug free.

But Mr Davis still felt so alone. He did not want to feel that way any more and turned back to drugs and crime.

"The vicious cycle seemed like it would never end," he said.

"After another year of this I completely lost hope but then something magical happened. I was locked up again. But this time there was light at the end of that tunnel. And that light was the Salvation Army".

Mr Davis was sent to a youth refuge run by the Salvos.

"Little did I know it would change my life forever. It was called Oasis. On my second day I met officer Major Paul Moulds. From that day they have always been there for me. And they are still there today 15 years on from when I first walked in that door," he said.

The Salvos helped him find hope and gave him the opportunity to find his purpose in life.

He loved music and a music program set up by the Salvos changed his life.

Mr Davis was able to put his thoughts on paper, write songs and have them produced.

He said he could finally see a light he had been searching for for years. And knew what he wanted to do.

"I went from being a hostile aggressive person with no direction, to having a dream. I couldn't stop smiling," he said.

"From that day I made a vow to be somebody. And give hope to others like what the Salvos did for me. Since then my life has changed so much".

In 2017 Mr Davis and the Salvation Army visited schools and raised awareness about youth homeless using the power of music. It provided him with an opportunity to share his story with thousands of students across NSW.

Today he runs a small events and promotion company in partnership with the Salvation Army. It helps youth who are homeless find hope through music.

Mr Davis is about to release a new album and is working on another with his Oasis peers.

"Fresh out of Sydney Film School I am also working on my own film scripts and my own film projects," he said.

"And I am very proud to say that I am a Salvation Army employee working to help others in the community.

"No matter where I go or what I do the Salvos are always there to guide me and support me on my journey. They are my family and they saved my life.

"We need the Salvation Army. And for the Salvos to continue to do what they do they need you.

"There are too many people out there who are still struggling and who have no hope.

"The street lifestyle is destroying our youth and cutting lives short. But you can help the Salvos ease that today. You can help save more lives like mine.

"Every single life is worth saving and worth your help.

"I would be in jail, on the streets or dead if it wasn't for the Salvation Army.

"And because of the Salvos I can live my life to the fullest and I have hope for the future".

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This story No one sets out to be alone but there is hope with the Salvos first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.