Tonight, the church of Sunbury are launching the winter night shelter project. This project is about opening our churches to assist people experiencing homelessness.
It started last winter when we realised there were many people sleeping rough in and around Sunbury. As a church we wanted to respond. Around 250 people in Sunbury are without permanent housing. Some are couch surfing or sleeping in cars, others are sleeping rough or in tents.
In a community where housing is popping up at a rate of knots, it’s shocking that many don’t have a place to call their own. Homelessness is increasing across Australia and despite what we imagine it’s not just the drug or alcohol or the mentally ill who are affected. The lack of affordable housing, insecure work, relationship breakdowns are some of the many reasons people become homeless. As statistics show women over 55 are the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia.
I decided to become part of this project because these people are me. I’ve had insecure work since 2016, at the start of last year I was unemployed. I could so easily be one of the homeless.
But by a privileged twist of fate, I’ve got family who I can fall back on, and together we are financially stable and have good enough relationships that they would never let me fail. I’ve felt that luck keenly over the last eight or so months I’ve been working on the project.
I’ve been doing tech support and communications; the conduit between the project and the community. It’s given me an opportunity to be creative; one of my favourite jobs was being in charge of the social media and this has been a more subdued but no less fun opportunity to work in that field again.
In reaching out to the community, I’ve found a whole bunch of people – mostly women to be honest – who have wanted to help. I’ve truly been humbled and surprised by their willingness to come on this journey with us.
I’ve responded to hundreds of messages on Facebook. Been offered everything from coffee machines to warm socks. When I put a call out for volunteers we were inundated with offers. When we needed bedding, we got so much that we could have opened a shop. My community is a community with a heart for justice and helping out those who are less fortunate than themselves.
It’s been a long road to get here and not always an easy one. I’m one piece of a larger team, others have given more, I’ve given what I can. I’ve had my doubts about whether this project would succeed and felt a sense that we would be letting down the community if we didn’t.
The fact we have guests tonight is a relief. But perhaps the success of the project should not just be measured by how many people spend the next 13 weeks with us. Perhaps the true success of the project is that as a church we have stood together, and in our attempt to respond as Jesus would want us to this injustice, we have also brought the community together.