I was born in Cyprus, but I grew up in Canberra. My family came to Australia for a better life when I was just under a year old.

In the beginning, school was hard because English wasn’t our first language. At home, we spoke Greek. So going to kindergarten, I didn’t really know much English. Going through school, I wasn’t good at reading or writing, but I excelled in maths. And I loved basketball.

I didn’t finish Year 11. That was when all the trouble happened. My parents passed away when I was 16. My dad had emphysema. My mum beat breast cancer, but I think after my dad passed away…she was lost. She passed away about a year after Dad.

My older brother took a job in England. It was a better opportunity for him, and he was trying to build a better life for us, on our own. I was getting ready to move to London once he got settled. But over there, he got mugged for his passport and they pushed him in front of a train. That changed everything again. I was left on my own.

I just turned 17 at that time. I was trying to cope and work out what my life was like. I had uncles and aunties, but they were overseas. You know, you have so-called family friends. In my head, they were like family, so you trust them. But, in hindsight, they were just taking advantage. Because I was underage, I needed someone overage for my inheritance and that. They were power of attorney for me over the year, and just milked it. Because I was young, I got into drugs and stuff just to mask it.

I only just started selling The Big Issue at the end of the last year. I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t do it for the money – I do it for something to do, for purpose. I’ve got a couple of regular customers now. I’ve always secluded myself and stayed to myself. Getting to see people and speak to people makes you feel better about yourself.

I was in and out of jobs. I’ve been in retail; I was managing supermarkets for a long time. Some years, for a while, I’d go good. But sometimes things happen and you fall back into depression.

I had a partner later on in life. We were together for 12 years. She was in a car crash and passed away in 2017. I was clean with my partner, but when she passed, I didn’t care anymore. I’ve been on my own since then, and struggled. It’s just one foot in front of the other.

I’ve got a car at the moment that I stay in. It’s lonely, it’s scary, you don’t always feel safe. It’s hard to trust, to find somewhere safe to be. I always say to people, homelessness is not something you’d wish on your worst enemies. Some people think if you’re homeless, it’s your fault – you’re either a druggo or a thief – but there are normal people who are homeless, too. Life has just dealt them a bad hand.

Panos sells The Big Issue in Woden Town Square, Canberra

Interview by Amy Hetherington
Photo by Rohan Thomson

Published in Ed#710