“7 years ago I was broke homeless and needed help. Community Friends was there to help.”
There is a gentle calm in Ben Gee’s Glaswegian accent as he pours us both another cup of tea at the West End Coffee Club.
I take a sip of the tea and then, unsure if I am being rude, I ask Ben how he got to that place. He has two degrees after all. A family. He is a talented musician who had supported the likes of Van Morrison.
He doesn’t seem to mind the question.
“I moved to Australia and found myself unable to get permission to work,” he said.
“I battled the bureaucracy for 3 years and finally, I had all the paperwork in place. Finally, I was allowed to work legally. It was time to reinvent myself and start my new life in Australia.”
Except that one morning shortly after, Ben woke up and couldn’t move his left arm. His hand was also lifeless – shaped into a claw. He couldn’t make his fingers move, much less play his guitar.
He underwent many tests but received no answers from any of them. His condition remained a mystery. He lived with a splint unable to move his hand, unable to play the guitar, unable to work.
“I thought my body was giving up on me,” he says, “I thought I was dying”
The illness sent him a deep depression. He made the decision to move out of the house he was living in with his partner and ended on the streets selling the big issue to get by.
“Ozcare found me a place to stay and I started having surgery and physiotherapy but I never felt safe where I was staying. People would wait until I was asleep and then steal anything I had. It was endless and unrelenting.”
Until he found Community Friends.
“Mark got me a room to stay in a reasonable place that felt safe. I can’t really explain the sheer elation of that feeling. The weight that safety lifted from my shoulders was enormous,” he said.
“My life is so different now. Gone are the days when I had to protect myself from other people where I lived. Now we all look after each other. If someone goes to the hospital, someone else comes and collects them and brings them home.”
And that is one of the things that constantly strikes Ben about Community Friends.
How often people who were once in need come back and help out once they have found their feet.
“I quite often recognise those at Wednesday giveaway but notice, they are now on the other side of the table – handing out the food to others.”
It’s a pretty wonderful circle.”
Written by Kathy Wilson (Author) and Community Friends volunteer.
Addendum by Mark McDonnell
This article was written a couple of weeks ago by Kathy Wilson. At that time, Ben was frequent visitor to PA Hospital. He wasn’t able to eat and had lost 40 kilograms. They didn’t have a diagnosis at the time.
This past week they opened him up and found cancer of the pancreas. They put a stent in his pancreatic duct as an interim treatment to enable him to eat. He will need to have major surgery within a relatively short time.
Community Friends has a 4 wheeled sit-on scooter, it wants to make available to Ben. But the charger, batteries and scooter all need replacement and/or repairs. If you can assist us with this project we would appreciate it.