My name is Gary Poole and I am the owner of The Escarpment Retreat and Day Spa.
This winter, I will take part in an event called CEO Sleepout in Brisbane where I will be given three pieces of cardboard and a cup of soup for a night to simulate the experience of homeless people.
Around 100,000 people are homeless every night in Australia. They are teenagers, children, the elderly, the mentally disabled, the addicts and regular people like you and me who have worked hard all their lives but cannot find cheap rental accommodation because they have lost their jobs.
I know exactly how they feel because I too was homeless from the age of 14 years old. I left home and never returned. I lived in sheds and slept on dirt floors with a cordial bottle full of hot water tucked in my blanket. Despite enduring freezing Victorian winters this way, I was happy to be free of the abuse. Yet I was incredibly scared – I was still a child after all, had no social skills, life skills or money.
To make my situation worse, I had a stammering impediment due to years of abuse.
It was so serious and so humiliating that if I needed to communicate, I would write it down and hand it to the other person. Buying milk in a shop would consist of a note to the shop owner requesting milk – followed up by another prepared note to say thank you.
Because of my crippling speech impediment, I found career solace in the world of computers (after all, machines do not judge you on the way you speak). I spent my whole life savings ($327) on a computer course. The money wasn’t enough – but the academy principal felt sorry for me and let me in anyway.
This was in the late 1960’s. Hypnotherapy helped me get over my stammering impediment, unlocking the door to career development and the opportunity to manage a computer company.
It was there that I first witnessed a contractor staying for a substantial time in a motel and I observed his gradual despair at not being able to do simple things like doing his laundry and cook his meals. I then realized that there was a market for good quality accommodation that straddled short and long-term. After all, everyone needs to have a space that is bigger than a hotel room in order to give them the dignity of independence.
It was on that note that I decided to leave the computer industry and open up my first serviced apartment business where people could have their own kitchens, laundry and outside space without committing to a long-term lease.
Looking back, I am grateful for those early years on the street as they taught me about survival. I honed my business skills and came up with some enduring philosophies about customer service. I might have once been homeless but I made sure everyone else who leased my serviced apartments had a good roof over their heads.
Having thrust myself into an entrepreneurial position, I realized that my education was lacking. What others learnt from a business degree, I learnt from a 10 week Council of Adult Education marketing course. I either had to learn fast or sink in the process.
My goal was to have 100 serviced apartments in 5 years. I remember telling everyone I met what my goal was. They did try to give the impression that what I was embarking on was credible. However, it was clear when I looked into their eyes I could feel the burning sensation of the word ‘stupid’ etched into my forehead. Rejection had been an old friend of mine from before, but this time I was on a mission and facts werent going to get in my way.
The business grew and I became CEO a few years later. Instead of 100 apartments in 5 years, it grew to 300 apartments in 3 years. It was here that I then met my soul mate, sold the business and moved to Mt Tamborine to operate The Escarpment Retreat – a beautiful boutique luxury bed and breakfast in the Gold Coast Hinterland featuring four poster king sized canopy beds and log fireplaces.
You can probably see the pattern by now – giving everyone a good nights’ sleep and happy experiences is important to me – anything less reminds me of dirt floors and cordial bottles filled with hot water.
I am sharing my story with you to tell you that homelessness can be overcome – and those horrible conditions can lay the foundation for a better life. Ultimately it is up to the individual, but surely we can put our hand out to at least help them get off the ground.
If you are moved or in any way feel inclined to help, then here is the link. I know times are tough so any amount is ok with me. I hope you can pass this appeal along to your friends and work colleagues.
Thank you for reading my story.