Australian man missing for 16 years found by family
AN Australian man who went missing for 16 years has finally been found by his family, sleeping rough in Britain's West Midlands.
Jason Ronald Douglas, an Australian of aboriginal descent, is thought to be in the Walsall area where he is believed to have been homeless for over a decade.
His family are now holding a crowd-funding campaign to pay for the costs of bringing him back to Australia.
Mr Douglas had been living with his uncle, Timothy Elwin Andrews, who was "like a father to him", in the UK while his family remained in Australia. But Mr Andrews died of a heart attack during a football game in 1999.
The last time Mr Douglas' relatives saw him face to face was in 1999 at his uncle's funeral.
Mr Douglas remained in the UK following his uncle's death, living with various friends, but his family lost contact with him in 2000, and believe that he had been badly affected the loss of Mr Andrews.
His relatives were unable to file a missing persons report in the UK as they live in Brisbane, Queensland and instead had to liaise with police in Australia, with little success.
The family continued to contact police in the UK. They eventually found out that he had been arrested in the West Midlands, and officers arranged for Mr Douglas to be able to speak to them.
"He was crying at first but then happy," his sister, Sally Douglas, told The Independent, regarding their first conversation in 16 years.
"We spoke about a lot of things. Our childhood memories, and our lives now."
"He told me about the hard life that he has had since being there and how long it took to get any assistance financially, which resulted in him being homeless for such a long time."
The reasons for Mr Douglas' gradual loss of contact with his family became clearer.
"He told me that the first ten years of him being there, he was homeless and living on the street as his passport and any ID he had was stolen, so he couldn't get any benefits to survive," Ms Douglas said.
"So he turned to petty crime such as shop-lifting to eat and begging for money on the street," she continued.
Ms Douglas believes it took so long to find him because he was drifting from one part of the country to another. It also emerged that Mr Douglas believed his family had given up looking for him.
"It's fairly normal for homeless people to move around," said a staff member at the Glebe Centre, a refuge for vulnerable people in Walsall, where Mr Douglas had visited in the past. "This means it can be difficult to pinpoint a location and it makes it hard for family members to get in contact."
Ms Douglas has praised the "wonderful" police who helped reconnect her with her brother. His family are raising money to pay for sleeping accommodation for Mr Douglas and flights and documentation to bring him home.