I think I’m a pretty good person. Someone who’s kind to other people and happy to give anyone a go, as long as they treat people right. I’m pretty cruisey most of the time. My little brother said to me “leave the past in the past and look forward to the future” – and I try my best to do just that.

I grew up in Perth. It was a violent home, and it’s something I wouldn’t wish on any child. I’m between a big and little brother, and we were very close when we were little. They were both my protectors. My little brother was funny and gorgeous – he still is – so he made us laugh during tough times. Both of my brothers have sold The Big Issue, so it’s a bit like a family business for us. I liked primary school, a couple of lovely teachers really got my learning difficulties and looked out for me. High school was tougher because the teachers and kids didn’t get me as much.

I was homeless when I started selling The Big Issue. The stuff from my childhood was catching up with me, and I was couch-surfing. It was a pretty crappy time. The extra money meant I could pay for a bed each night. I eventually ran into a lovely person from St Bart’s and they helped me get a bed in a hostel.

I’m now in my own place and I love it to bits. My little brother’s next door and we look after each other. I like being out in the world and I’m a bit of a social butterfly – but I do love a couple of lazy days to myself at home. It’s like time-out from real life. You definitely don’t get that couch-surfing.

I volunteer with Perth Homeless Support Group and Street Friends every fortnight, sorting clothes and handing out doonas, toiletries, gloves and beanies. It’s cold when you’re sleeping rough. I really want to help because I know what it’s like. I feel lucky I’m not in that position anymore, and I feel for people that are. I’m working through a Certificate in Community Services online and I’d love to work with young people who are homeless one day. I reckon I’d be pretty good at it!

I feel good about life at the moment. My psychologist introduced me to online meditation and I’m finding it really good. I keep telling other people to try it! My church is lovely, too, and I’ve got a couple of good friends who are always up for a trip to the movies. I’m a creative person and love painting and making jewellery. I did an acrylic painting class a year ago, and am saving up to do more classes.

I’m saving up for driving lessons and a car, too. Selling The Big Issue helps with those extras. I’ve met some lovely people, and I really enjoy the work. I’m friends with a lot of the other vendors, which makes it nice to come to work.

Kaia sells The Big Issue at Rockingham Foreshore, Perth

Interview by Pia Bonifant
Photo by Ross Swanborough