09 Dec The world, but not as we know it
Commuting to work through the city day in and day out, we’ve almost become accustomed to the sight of those who line the streets each day and night. But sometimes all it takes is for one experience to open your eyes and see the world differently.
This month the team from HERD were fortunate to experience, participate and learn valuable lessons from St. Raphael’s Mission (SRM); a Western Sydney-based not-for-profit organisation dedicated to feeding the homeless in the CBD every Monday night.
The afternoon commenced with a presentation from SRM Founder, Isabel Antoun, who talked us through some of the rewarding work the charity does every year, as well as providing us with background on the degree of homelessness in Australia.
“There are currently over 105,000 people in Australia who are homeless, and almost 35,000 are between the ages of 19 and 34,” we were told. Glances were exchanged across the room as the realisation struck home that these individuals were no older than many of us, yet had endured a life and experienced things we could only imagine.
Whilst we all leave our full-time job to the comfort of our homes every night, this isn’t the reality for all. Shelter in hostels, we were told, was not always guaranteed either. A waiting list could hold your name for almost a month before securing you a bed one night – even then, if you were one of the few who had secured a job and earned above a certain threshold one week, you were immediately placed back to the bottom of the list.
The sun set and we made our way to Martin Place. We were greeted by almost 150 homeless individuals, patiently awaiting their regular Monday night dinner and chat.
We met Steph, a 50-year-old woman who found herself on the streets after a violent up-bringing landed her under the care of the state, and then onto the streets after missing documents left her identity-less. For JD, a poor relationship with his parents saw him happily leave home at 14. But after 3 weeks, he says his feelings had turned to regret. Fast forward 25 years, and you’ll find JD in Martin Place exchanging laughs and secret handshakes with his “new family”, SRM.
Then there’s Shaun and Allen; identical twins with the most infectious humour. “You can tell us apart because John has the walking stick, and I don’t,” Allen greeted us. Two minutes later, Shaun joined us and extended the same greeting. They were definitely twins!
But then there was Kate; one of the sweetest and well-mannered women you could ever meet. A student by day and a regular on the streets by night, Kate has turned her determination for a better life into a reality and has just completed her first semester of a Bachelor of Fine Arts at one of Sydney’s most prestigious universities. Just like many others we met, Kate says she can’t wait to be able to give back to charities just like SRM who have helped her during life’s biggest tests.
And that’s one of our greatest learnings from this experience. Whilst society may paint the portrait of the homeless in black and white; our experiences taught us otherwise. There are so many people in our country who have found themselves in undesirable circumstances because of things beyond their control. So many of them possess colourful personalities, and nothing is more invaluable to them than an open ear; and if you listen carefully there are many life lessons to be heard.