Hope Street10 Jun 2010
More people than you may think are one pay cheque away from becoming potentially homeless. A "homeless person" is someone who is without a conventional home and lacks the economic and social supports that a home normally requires. He/she is often cut off from the support of relatives and friends, he/she has few independent resources and often has no immediate means and, in some cases, little prospect of self-support. Many homeless people weren't always that way, it has occurred through disability, mental illness, market changes, job loss and addictions.
Two weeks ago, I attended an Urban Walk tour in Woolloomooloo in Sydney, run through an uplifting organisation called Hope Street. They have been operating since 1983 and their aim is to empower the less fortunate and arm them with tools and knowledge that will hopefully steer them in the right direction and gradually integrate them back into the community. We took a walk through the streets of Woolloomooloo that are home to those who have no permanent place to live. The group was split into two, my tour was led by one of the Hope Street educators – Tim.
Firstly, looking around, seeing homeless people laying on the ground in sleeping bags at 6pm made me feel uneasy, like I was out of place or shouldn't have been in that neighbourhood. Tim told us that the park that was being used, was one of only a couple in Sydney where the homeless can sleep without being moved on by police.
On we went, first stop was a heritage terrace house. Entering the house, looking around, there were artworks on the walls, lounges, a television, DVD player, with movies sitting out, I wondered what we were doing there and who's house we were in. Tim explained that it's a Women's Safe House that's been adapted and made available to street based sex workers. It's a cosy place where they can go through the day and relax, watch movies, wash their clothes, shower, make something to eat or just have a chat with the social workers, it's about offering friendships in a safe place. Most of the women have done the artwork that gets put up around the place. There is also a no men policy so the women feel safer and free from harassment. The ladies also get encouragement, Tim told us a story of one woman who wanted to attend a course, with the support and encouragement from the Safe House, she will now have the resources to leave the sex industry.
We then continued back out on the cold, dark streets of Woolloomooloo, passing a community garden, which is a public space that the neighbourhood is free to access as they please. There is a basketball court, the garden had a very New York feel to it. Tim said that once a month, the community all gather together and have a BBQ which involves over 400 people, from the homeless to the unemployed to police officers. It's a great opportunity for everyone to mingle and have a chat over a sausage sandwich.
Tim also talked of an employment service run by Hope Street, which reaches out to members of the community who have been removed from the employment world for a long time. They feel that there is a missing link for those who lack the resources to renew skills, gain new skills or even know where to start in looking for employment. In the inner city, about 25% of adults and 38% of youths are unemployed, one of the biggest contributing factors is due to them being on the Disability Support Pension or being mentally ill, or both.
Next stop was to the front of an Op-shop that is run by Hope Street and community members. The best part is at the back where there is a cafe that opens daily and serves great coffee for just $1, this allows the less fortunate to take part in one of the simpler things in life that most of us take for granted.
The last stop was an art space, where the less fortunate and homeless can come together to take part in what some would say is a healing process, in the way of expression, through art. The walls are lined with inspirational paintings and artworks. Tim told us of a wonderful story of a homeless man who sold some of his artwork for $700 apiece. With that money, he decided to travel back to New Zealand to visit his grandmother. While over there, he reconnected with his parents, and is now working again and has his own place to live.
It is estimated that there are between 70 and 200 people sleeping on the streets of central Sydney every night. Hope Street helps to restore the loss of a sense of personal significance in the lives of many less fortunate people. Hope Street, a place where the hidden homeless will find a home amongst the community.
If you would like to learn more about Hope Street, take part in an Urban Walk or sleep out on the street for a night, volunteer or make a donation, visit www.hopestreet.org.au