VICTORIA’S Hume City Council candidate Phillip Di Biase, 19, is sporting a blue shirt and an over-sized leather jacket that he happily admits he picked up second hand.

Di Biase is thrifty – a trait, he explains, that comes with living in Broadmeadows government housing and technically being homeless.

Di Biase isn’t your typical teenager. He grew up in a “highly controlled” Jehovah’s Witness community, came out to his disapproving family when he was 16, turned his back on his religion soon after and, rather than wait to be kicked out of home when he turned 18, left at 17.

It was here that he decided he wanted to help other young homeless people in Hume.

“From this background you become extremely thrifty. You don’t have to spend x amount of money to run a food program. I look at the problem from a very practical and street smart perspective,” he says.

Di Biase and his family would attend church three times a week and on off-days, they would study to prepare for church and go door knocking. But coming out to his devoutly religious family at 16 wasn’t too hard he says. In this community, being homosexual won’t get you excommunicated, but acting on it will.

When he came out to his mother, Di Biase says her first reaction was denial, and a lack of understanding. She thought he had been “convinced” to become homosexual by someone on the internet.

“I remember she asked me, ‘When did you start liking guys?’ Well, when did you start liking guys? Let me tell you, that’s the weirdest thing to have to say to your mother,” he says.

But being gay isn’t the only reason he left home.

Di Biase had been conflicted between his faith and logic for a number of years and he was also fed up with the “extreme boredom” of the Jehovah’s Witness studies he was made to endure.

“It’s like going through repetitive, basic maths everyday,” he says.

“I could, blindfolded, underline all the answers to the questions, I knew it that well. The lessons were coming in complete rotations.”

At 17, he decided to stop being religiously active. He told the family priest his decision to dissociate around the time missionaries were guests in his mother’s house.

Di Biase’s mother kicked him out of home for four days while the missionaries stayed in case they felt uncomfortable having him in the house. When he returned, she told him he had to leave for good when he turned 18, but rather than wait, he left at home at 17, officially severing his connections with the Jehovah’s Witness community.

“It was a cycle of boredom, then being angry and annoyed and thinking ‘why the hell am I here?’, then making a stand,” Di Biase says.

“For my family it was other things. It wasn’t just religion or coming out, it was the rebellion altogether. And that was, for them, why I had to move out when I was 18.”

Despite his upbringing – or perhaps because of it – Di Biase has a deep desire to make improvements in Hume. He has replaced religious ideology with a political one he describes as “civil liberties with social responsibility”.

And his understanding of homelessness gives him an edge as a council candidate in Hume, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Victoria.

But one of his main concerns, which he says is overlooked and sits at the root of unemployment issues, is the ability for young homeless people, or young people without adult guardians, to get their driver’s licence.

“One program I want to see in Hume is the Ls to Ps program. It’s already run by Hume City Council but it’s not moving. There aren’t many drivers that can do it and they rely on volunteers,” he says.

He is also an advocate for better public transport in Hume because of these license barriers.

But while he would make improvements to Hume, he says he loves the city’s multiculturalism.

“The city of Hume is one of the most diverse areas, it’s got around 129 ethnicities. But while you can say the good things, there are also a lot of things that stand out that need to improve.”

Di Biase is a member of the ALP but is running as an independent candidate for the October 22 elections.

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