Last Friday, I took part in a new initiative by The Wayside Chapel to encourage compassion and understanding for people who are homelessness. I went on Rob’s tour. It was absolutely amazing and I want to share the experience. (Not too much though, because I think you should all do it!)
We turned up at The Wayside Chapel and were welcomed by Rob and Andrew as if we were old friends. My first impression was how different Wayside feels from other services. There was no desk. No security. No bars. No barriers. Everyone is welcome, and the dining hall gives the same vibe. We enjoyed some fabulous low-cost food before moving into the chapel to hear about Wayside and Rob and Andrew’s stories. I won’t share too much, because they are not my stories to share.
Both men had a history of homelessness, being in and out of services, losing touch with their families, and having problems with alcohol and drug use before turning their lives around. They have both moved from volunteer to staff at The Wayside Chapel and said they are now leading a “normal life.”
What the heck is normal anyway?
“A setting on a washing machine” Andrew says definitively.
Wouldn’t life be boring if we all were normal like the setting on the machine?
After looking at the facilities and beautiful roof garden, we then hit the streets starting with Kings Cross.
We walked down “kneecap” alley, a former dive of a street that used to be covered in syringes, where dealers and corrupt policeman alike would stand over people to get revenge on unmet deals. Then after moving onto the main hub of the cross, past the injecting room (which has had NO deaths since it opened by the way) we were told their tales of their survival on the streets. Stories of tactically saving cigarette butts, watching for drunk backpackers to rob and ways to make a quick buck. It was hard to imagine these big-hearted souls before me doing such things, but I know too well from my days of social work what the combination of anger and survival does to a person.
I asked Rob what we could do better, to help people in this situation. I’ve been so frustrated, burnt out and sometimes terrified about what would happen to a person that I was working with. His reply was simple ‘Nothing. The person has to want to change themselves.’
But the key is that services need to not give up, and keep offering a ‘hand up’. And that is what Wayside did. They waited. They didn’t give up. And when Rob was ready, so were they. (They even supported his crazy idea to buy a tent and detox himself in the bush – which he did!). We continued the night by walking to St Vincent’s, Potts Point and Wolloomooloo accompanied by stories of services, anecdotes and history.
I learnt so much more about the city I lived and worked in for years.
The learning – what helps the homeless?
Being seen as a person, not as a problem, by everyone (even your average Joe on the street).
Being given a “hand up” not a “hand out”, in Rob’s words.
Being ‘met’ as a person and ‘not fixed’, in Rob’s words again (smart guy, he is!)
Have something to do, and have GOOD support when you get housing.
Being said hello to. Sounds basic, but being made to feel invisible makes you feel like shit.
I could have sat and talked with Rob for hours and felt so many things when the tour ended.
We all might have taken a different journey, but are all essentially the same inside.
Do take a walk with Rob and Andrew one evening yourselves, or at the very least head to Wayside for a meal.
Ps. This is not a sponsored post. Just sharing the love.