Hundreds set to trek from Parramatta to Kings Cross for Wayside Chapel’s Long Walk Home

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Scott Endersby, 49, was just a child when he began sleeping rough, a situation he would only escape during stints spent in jail during the decades that followed.

But a chance encounter would result in a new best friend, giving him the strength to land when his life “backflipped” three years ago.

While Australia has transformed since the late 1980s when Endersby first hit the streets of Illawarra at age 14, he said his experience of homelessness remained largely unvaried.

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“Nothing really changed,” Endersby told 7NEWS.com.au. “It was the same old rigmarole.”

Nearly half of Australians experiencing homelessness also struggle with drug dependence, and Endersby was one of them.

Data from RMIT University found that young people experiencing homelessness are more at risk of developing substance abuse problems and that most of those who do remain homeless for more than a year.

Endersby said for most of his life, he had been “in and out of jail, doing crime to support habits”.

The money he generated criminally allowed him to survive, but it also kept him trapped in a vicious cycle. He said that, before now, he only accessed the support services of Wayside Chapel for a brief period in his 20s.

But most people experiencing homelessness need to walk an average of 28km weekly to access such support services or a safe place to sleep, according to Wayside Chapel.

Hundreds are set to walk that distance from Parramatta to Kings Cross in Sydney on Saturday for Wayside Chapel’s Long Walk Home initiative, to raise money for the thousands of rough sleepers who walk that distance each week.

“I see people who are homeless in the city, and you see some that have got hygiene and some that have got no hygiene whatsoever. For them to walk day in and day out to find somewhere to shower, to get something fresh to eat, it’s not easy,” Endersby said.

Scott Endersby (left) credits a fresh start in Sydney, Wayside Chapel’s Joe Ireland (right), and his best friend, with helping him turn his life around. Credit: Bianca De Marchi/AAP

Fresh starts, friendship, and a backflip in Bondi

Endersby is now the face of the Long Walk Home — he’s experienced homelessness “all over Australia, basically,” but said, “since I moved to Bondi Beach three years ago, life’s just totally backflipped”.

“I got myself clean, I got myself into a private rental with my best mate, I got myself a full-time job.”

But he said he couldn’t do it alone. He credits his strength to stay on the straight and narrow to his fresh start in Sydney, his support worker from Wayside Chapel, Joe Ireland, and his best friend Jason, who he said “has had a rough life, like me”.

The best friends met “in the system” and, during time spent together at Wesley Mission, created a bond that would help them differentiate their next chapter from the ones that came before.

“I wouldn’t live with anyone else,” said Endersby, who described his previous post-prison living arrangements in Illawarra, organised by housing authorities, as futile.

“I lived by myself when I got out last time in 2019, and it was like a nightmare,” he said.

“They gave me the application to sign for it, and I just said: ‘You’re just setting me up to fail’.”

“It was just back into the same old s***. I was living in a block of units full of drug addicts. Six months later, I was back on the drugs and s*** hit the fan.

“I said, ‘stuff it’. I packed my bag and moved to Sydney.”

‘It really does a number on your body’

Endersby is now working in demolition and has just signed another six-month lease on a private rental with Jason — but more than 122,000 Australians continue to sleep rough every night in Australia.

Wayside chief executive Jon Owen said many rough sleepers stay alert overnight out of fear of being assaulted, leaving daytime as the only time for rest. And that’s about to get even harder, he said.

“Climate change and the cost-of-living increases that have really hit people, you’re seeing that all come together on the streets,” Owen said.

“You’re trying to catch a nap in the middle of a 35C day, and you’re already at your wit’s end. There’s exhaustion and dehydration.

“It really does a number on your body, on your feet.”

You can support these people by taking the Long Walk Home, and if you can’t make it on Saturday, a free virtual walk challenge allows participants to go at their own pace across the course of a week.

Endersby extended his gratitude to “all the supporters, and their lovely donations for the Long Walk Home.”

– With AAP

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