This is the message from one of the people we are working closely with and whom we listen closely to. When we recently visited the outreach program to people experiencing homelessness on the Rosebud foreshore we chatted with Mark as we observed the gentle scene before us. The sun was shining, it was a fabulous autumnal day. Bright blue sky, a gentle breeze. There were about 12 visitors, men and women, others had already come and gone, the remaining ones were lingering in the peacefulness of a safe place to be with a full tummy, clean hair and clothes.
This is SPLASH – the Southern Peninsula Shower and Laundry program that runs each Thursday from the BBQ area next to the skate park on Point Nepean Rd. The Shire recently upgraded the toilet block to include two showers and a washer and dryer – a godsend for people sleeping rough, in their cars, etc. Last Ranger count was 46. If we take the Census data that says 7% of homeless people are sleeping rough, that means 14 times this number or 644 are actually homeless in Rosebud and surrounds. That’s over ten times the national homelessness rate!
SPLASH is run by the Southern Peninsula Community Support and Information Centre (SPCSIC) collaborating with Shire Youth Services, Salvocare and Bolton Clarke outreach nurses. It’s the first time they’ve run an outreach program in the area despite years of high rates of homelessness and the area being well recorded as very high level of disadvantage for many many years. SPLASH emerged from the work undertaken by SPCSIC to help coordinate local agencies so they were more collaborative, rather than working in isolated silos. Through this work they realised they could work together, create a new outreach program and start to address the ongoing and unresolved issues.
I asked Mark if this was really the first time this outreach was happening here despite years of entrenched homelessness, and he said yes. I asked if it was working to connect people to support and he said, absolutely. So I asked if it was possible to change the game in this area, ie change levels of disadvantage, and he said – yes!
Perhaps it’s complacency, perhaps its being unaware…. When people’s lives are not directly affected or they can’t see it, issues of inequality, which mean some people live tragically impoverished lives, are not on their radar. Yet while the people have complex lives, the solution is not that hard. Be kind, ask what they want and work with them. Don’t judge them, pity them or control them. As Mark said, it is a matter of changing the culture and levels of expectation and they can only do that if they are empowered and recognised in their work, which is what philanthropic support is all about.
One woman, very skinny, looking much older than she was, was talking to a man, then walked off in a determined way, to come back in a few minutes pulling a little shopping trolley with clothes hanging off it. Mark and I watched as she held up clothes to his frame. They tried a few and he took some in a roll and gave her a big hug. Mark said, that was priceless – this guy was so isolated, he never talked to anyone, let alone made contact. Mark was visibly moved by the interaction that was entirely spontaneous, but only possible because of the coordinating of the outreach program. Apparently the woman loves clothes and collects them from cast offs, even though she only has a little tent. She wants to get into fashion…
Another woman went through the toiletries bags kindly donated – she was only young, maybe in her 20s…we asked if she wanted something in particular – incontinence pads she said…but then hurried off to her car which was where she lived. We didn’t ask more, but couldn’t help wondering – what story lay within.
Another woman, clean and tidy after her shower, quietly took one of the toiletries bags. She thanked us with nervousness, eyes barely up, but smiled hugely when we said how lovely she looked. With her clothes in a plastic bag, in thongs, she walked off…to where, we didn’t know.
We’re thrilled to have financial supporters coming on board with MPF to get behind this program, which is part of our work to support people experiencing homelessness and the agencies they connect with.