Former troubled teen finds his oasis in life through music
By LAUREN MARTIN
Owen Davis credits music – and Jesus through The Salvation Army – with saving his life.
Twenty years ago, his life on the streets of inner Sydney was chaotic and dangerous, with The Salvation Army’s Oasis Youth Support Network and its then manager, Major Paul Moulds, his only anchor.
Decades later, the musician and videographer has moved on from his life on the streets, but he’s never lost his passion for assisting others in the same position he found himself in as a teen, without a place to call home.
In 2016, he was part of The Salvation Army’s Couch Project ‘Street to Stage’ tour of 12 high schools, raising money and creating awareness around youth homelessness. From that, Owen birthed a ‘Street 2 Stage’ (S2S) initiative that gained funding to work with young people experiencing homelessness, training them in music production and videography.
It was full circle for the young man, who took part in a similar initiative through The Salvation Army’s Oasis more than a decade earlier. “I don’t forget that,” he says, his passion and faith running so deep that he continued anyway when funding ran out for the project.
“This work is really important to me. Everyone was saying to me, ‘Just wait for the funding, don’t waste your time’, but I thought, ‘I’m not going to let these young guys miss out due to lack of funding.”
Street 2 Stage initiative
The projects Owen developed, and runs, are the Street 2 Stage ‘One Shot’ and ‘One Take’ initiatives. One Shot focuses on music production, and One Take focuses on film production.
Owen connects with young people experiencing homelessness through word-of-mouth referrals or social media and invites them to be part of the eight-week program. They learn production, writing, recording, mixing/editing and mastering, and marketing/PR skills from Owen, who has qualifications in screen media.
“They are then able to use their skills in their life,” says Owen. “They are able to go out and take steps forward like finding accommodation, finding a job and holding that job and doing some good stuff with their life. It 100 per cent improves their self-esteem and gives them concrete skills that transfer to many different job opportunities – not just in the music or film industry.”
One participant, Frank, says Street 2 Stage and his connection with Owen changed his life.
“Before it, I had no direction. My life [was] a mess, but through music and film, I feel like now my life is just awesome,” he shares. “I can’t explain it, but I have something to live for.”
Frank has gone from experiencing homelessness, being in and out of jail, to now “happily living with my partner and my child ... and so lucky to be able to share my story on a stage. I truly went from the streets to the stage,” he says.
Stories like Frank’s are never instant, and Owen personally knows the value of long-term journeying with people, having experienced it himself with his mentor, Major Paul Moulds.
Despite appointment changes taking Paul away from Oasis and even interstate, he never lost touch with Owen and has been there through many ups and downs.
Salvation Army partnership
Paul remembers meeting Owen as a teenager, saying, “He was very angry, but he always had a dream – even back then, you could sense it. Over the years, we have been able to help him. He has done all the work himself, but we have been able to help him find pathways to do that.”
Paul says he’s thrilled to work alongside Owen again in his new role as Team Leader of Greater West Salvos. Earlier this year, the team was granted government funding to develop ‘Western Sydney Oasis’ – a multi-million-dollar transformation centre at St Marys.
“We have plans in western Sydney to develop a whole lot of positive and creative youth projects to help young people to express themselves and give them skills and training. Owen is part of that team that is helping us plan it.”
The Western Sydney Oasis development is many years off completion; however, Owen continues to offer Street 2 Stage as a volunteer and is working with the team on gaining funding for other youth-based initiatives.
Music funding the mission
Owen unleashes his creativity in his spare time through his rap characters – ‘Fiction’ and ‘OE’ – who both release music. Fiction is an anti-hero character, who Owen describes as portraying “the worst of everyone, the dark side of everyone”.
“OE, he is like different, he’s like above everything else, he wants to change the world. His inspiration is Jesus. OE started a new genre called homeless rap, which only talks about the struggle and the pain instead of like the glory [of the drug lifestyle]. Homeless rap is going to tell you that drugs will ruin your life, will kill you, will make you homeless, not glorify it.”
Owen releases a music single every month, with 20 per cent of all proceeds from OE’s releases donated to The Salvation Army. The music is released through all major streaming services such as Spotify, iTunes and Amazon and also as an NFT.
He’s also started a new initiative – Justice News – working with others who have had experience with homelessness to interview real people about social justice issues.
“Jesus is the inspiration for what I do – not for fame or for money but to see a better world, that’s my dream.”