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26 August 2010

Homeless man honoured with Order of Australia medal

Conor Duffy reported this story

MARK COLVIN: Soon after the 2007 election Kevin Rudd promised to halve the number of homeless in the country by 2020.

But earlier this year welfare agencies warned that the homeless numbers were actually on the rise.

There's still a shortage of emergency housing.

The problem was starkly outlined at Government House in Sydney today, when one of the recipients of the Order of Australia medal arrived in the car he has been living in for the past few weeks.

Tony Miller received the award for his work setting up a support group called Dads in Distress, which gives assistance to single fathers.

In recent months though, he's fallen on hard times.

Conor Duffy spoke to him just before the award ceremony.

CONOR DUFFY: At Government House today Comcars and limousines queued up for a prestigious ceremony with the Governor off New South Wales, Professor Marie Bashir. Tony Miller was there to receive an Order of Australia medal. He arrived early, but had to convince security to let him in.

TONY MILLER: When I got here they turned me away when I got to the gate here, they said "you can't come here, it's not until 2:30, it's too early in the morning". I said, look, I've come from Coffs Harbour, I've got nowhere to go. He said "go up the Opera House and something else" and then one of the bosses must have heard them talking on the frequency and he says "hey, you can't do this to the bloke, he said you know you can't somebody 100 bucks to go and park their car somewhere in Sydney. Let 'em in the bloody gate and put 'em up the back".

CONOR DUFFY: Tony Miller recently became homeless and has been living out of his car. His humble Ford Falcon is parked here amongst much more expensive models.

TONY MILLER: Yeah, it's where I've been living. This is the lounge room of my home, is the front seat of my car. And after today I guess if I get the medal I'll hang it in my lounge room, which will be my rear vision mirror.

CONOR DUFFY: How's it feel for you today having to rock up to get such a high honour under such circumstances?

TONY MILLER: Oh look, you know it's just the deal that's been dealt out. You know, it's the way it goes. I've spoken to a lot of media today simply to sort of bring attention to the fact of the plight of homeless people and there's a lot out there and I see 'em every day.

And certainly on my trip down here to Sydney I met a lot of guys that are in the same boat; there's nowhere to go. And this is one of the things I'd like to sort of push government to have a look at. There are many women's refuges in this country and rightly so, but there's nothing for men. There's nowhere for men to go when it all hits the roof and they've got nowhere to go to maybe get some respite and care.

CONOR DUFFY: Tony Miller is being recognised to day for setting up a group called Dads in Distress, which aims to support fathers who have recently become separated. It's estimated to have helped tens of thousands of people, and that's why Tony Miller is getting one of the most prestigious awards in Australia.

TONY MILLER: Dads in Distress is simply providing a safe place for men who are going through the turmoil, the tragedy of divorce and separation. It just gives them a safe place to come in and be able to talk to another bloke that maybe has been through a similar thing and understand where they're at, where they can get help and more than anything just to get it out, get it off their chest, because a lot of men tend to sort of build all this stuff in rather than talk to another bloke about their problems.

CONOR DUFFY: However Tony Miller says he's found it much harder to access services since he became homeless.

TONY MILLER: There's not a lot out there I've got to tell you. You know, look I was talking to Centrelink the other day and they see it every day the people in Centrelink. And the one in Coffs Harbour they were telling me they've got a little space at the back there that's it's actually cordoned off but they know homeless people jump over the fence every night and they make their beds in it; it's a warm little cosy spot and they allow them to do that, because there's nowhere else for them to go; there's nowhere else to send them. They're aware of it, but there's nothing they can do about it.

CONOR DUFFY: And while he's clearly fallen on hard times, Tony Miller says he's got it far better than many of the 100,000 people estimated to be homeless in Australia.

TONY MILLER: I've got a Falcon, so I've got a bigger car than a lot of guys, and I'm only a short bloke, so at least I can fit in there. I do get a bit cramped at times, depending on where you are and the weather's sort of been pretty cold lately but I'm lucky, I've got a car; many people are living on the street.

CONOR DUFFY: He's hoping he can access services that will help him get back on track, but for the foreseeable future Tony Miller's Ford Falcon, complete with Order of Australia medal, will remain his home.

TONY MILLER: I park on the beach at Coffs Harbour there and I pull up on my spot and guys pull up next to me and they knock on my door and say "can I come in" and they come in and sit down and we talk about each other's problems and where we are andÉ I mean, it's just life. That's the way it is.

MARK COLVIN: Tony Miller ending that report from Conor Duffy.

MP3 - Homeless man honoured with Order of Australia medal


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