A former homeless man has turned his life around in less than a decade - with the help of a guardian angel.

Damien Colgan has gone from being an alcoholic $37,000 in debt to getting a degree and marrying his lecturer. They now have a daughter, own five houses and a successful business.

Colgan, 52, puts all his success down to his budgeting advisor Maureen Little, who celebrated 30 years in the job at Presbyterian Support Northern this month.

"I just make myself very available to Maureen because I am forever in her debt," Colgan told the Herald.

Advertisement

"She's put up with so much bullsh** from me and she's been very patient."

Damien Colgan with his daughter. Colgan has gone from living on the streets to owning five homes in a decade. Photo / Focus
Damien Colgan with his daughter. Colgan has gone from living on the streets to owning five homes in a decade. Photo / Focus

Little, who at 72 is still going strong, provides free financial advice and budgeting plans - but she does more than that. For the past decade she's been Colgan's guardian angel.

After his last stint in prison for robbing a bank Colgan was homeless. He spent a decade sleeping rough with his "streetie whanau" before finding himself in Little's office in 2008 to try to get the benefit.

"I'd been in jail a few times, done lots of really dumb sh**. I got out of jail in 2000 with no bank account, no ID, no address."

Little offered him an agency banking service where they accepted his benefit and wrote him a cheque every week. In 30 years, Little has signed more than 1.4 million cheques for her clients.

"I'd pick up my cheque, invariably I was drunk or high," Colgan said.

"Every time she'd give me my cheque and have a yarn with me and tell me how I could best maximise my benefit and get everything I was entitled to."

After an accident where Colgan broke both of his legs he went to rehab to stop drinking. Four months later he walked into Little's office and announced he was sober.

"She said 'congratulations, what are you going to do with it?' I thought 'this is a bit off you're supposed to pour praise on me'."

Advertisement

Instead Little insisted that he volunteer full time at the food bank. It was there Colgan started to take on more responsibility, which helped keep him out of trouble. Little also helped him declare insolvency and get out of the $37,000 debt he had accrued by damaging vehicles.

One night Colgan suddenly had the idea to go to university. He did not even know how to switch on a computer. Little helped him enrol and in 2014 Colgan graduated with a Bachelor of Communications from Auckland University of Technology.

But he didn't just get a degree: his now-wife Jeanie was his first-year philosophy lecturer. They began dating in his last year of study. The couple have a 4-year-old daughter.

After graduating, Colgan started a contracting business and provides services like rubbish removals, reroofing and glazing. He also started renovating and selling houses.

The couple now own three houses in Auckland and two in Gisborne and only have a small mortgage, Colgan said.

"And it's all legal. I couldn't believe it. I've struck the jackpot."

Advertisement

Little admitted Colgan was one of her success stories.

"He was a little waif [when I met him]; he wasn't well fed, he wasn't managing well. He was living rough most of the time.

"We took his money and made sure he paid rent and had money in his hand to buy food and gave him advice along the way.

"It's a real joy [to see him now]. He gives me great hope for everybody else. I'm proud and very happy for him. I'm just glad to see him reaching fulfillment and using the brains he has got."

The two have a solid friendship and Colgan frequently helps her clients with handyman work.

He described Little as an incredibly humble and deep person who lives her principles with integrity.

Advertisement

"She's does the stuff nobody else will do. She sees value in people that have been discarded by society. When you end up in Maureen's office you've reached the end of the line."

Little believed Kiwi children should learn budgeting at school from the age of 11 to avoid falling into the growing number of financial traps they may encounter as adults.

In 30 years, she has seen the number of predator pay-day lending facilities proliferate, and her low-income clients becoming trapped by increasingly complicated forms of debt.

The most extreme case was someone whose $500 loan ballooned to more than $19,000 within a few months because of penalty fees and 100 per cent interest rates.

Teaching children budgeting would also help parents and prevent some of the poor spending patterns she sees from generation to generation within the same families.

"Managing our money is managing how we live," she said.

​Little's tips for budgeting

​• ​Count all your income, count all your outgoings and minus the latter from the former every week.

Advertisement

​• ​Try and plan at least a month ahead

​• ​Stay away from often-expensive mobile shops that tend to target poor areas, credit cards and payday loans.

​• ​Try to increase income and decrease outgoings.

For budgeting advice phone 09 520 8671 or to donate visit Presbyterian Support Northern's website.