Regina Tito has bravely put her life’s story on show in a short documentary talking about wellington’s homeless community. She works with the Downtown Community Ministry in the capital, helping some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. And she knows what they’re going through. Regina has first-hand experience living on the streets after periods of, as a very young teen, walking out of a violent household to fend for herself. She slept rough and she’s had some stints in prison, but she has turned her life around, she’s got herself an education and she is now helping the community she knows well. She has also raised a family and is a grandmother.
The documentary is called Street Smart, it is screening as part of the Loading Docs 2016 films.
Read an edited excerpt from the interview:
Take us back to your teen years, to your childhood. How was it that sleeping rough was preferable to staying at home?
When my younger sister was five and I was seven, we were placed into foster care. That was due to some violence that was going on at the time. I never witnessed any of that. When we were reunited with our mother when I was 11, that was when I started seeing the violence that she was experiencing. One of the times I recall was, in order for Mum to keep us safe she would take us to what is now the Embassy Theatre, when they had midnight movies. She would take us in there to be safe and that was just after an event where she may have just been beaten. So we would sleep or we would be in the theatre until it was safe to go back to the property where we were staying at the time.
As a child in this environment, you began to get used to the idea of going somewhere to be safe because home was not safe.
Absolutely. Those are probably some of the things that I had instilled in me; that it was better to be out of the house in order to be safe. So later on, choosing to go on to the streets and stuff, that is the direction that I took.
How old were you when you first started to sleep rough? Was it for short stretches sometimes?
Like I said before, 11 was when we were reunited with Mum and it was between then and through to 15 when I was often on the streets. They were off and on stints. If I needed to go home and have a shower, that is what I would do. That is what a lot of our homeless community might do if they have got somewhere where they can shower. Going back onto the streets it was just to be safe and to be around a like-minded community who knew what I was going through and who understood the things that were happening at home and who were supportive.
What changed for there to be a time where you no longer went out on the street?
There was a period of… what they called Borstals back in the day. I was in what was called corrective training. It was at Arohada prison. I was pregnant at the time also, I was carrying my first child in prison and when I was released and I had baby, the thoughts of, “Okay, now I’ve got a child, I can do better things.” I recall very clearly: “I am never going to let this happen. I am never going to let this happen to my daughter.” But the thing for me at the time was there was so much going on inside that needed to be dealt with before I could be stable before I could be a good parent.