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Street count sheds light on homelessness in Sydney

24 August 2017 Wesley Mission news

Last week, many Wesley Mission employees sacrificed a few hours of sleep to take part in the street count, led by the City of Sydney and Waverley Council. Roughly 150 volunteers headed out to the streets of Sydney, in the early hours of the morning, to collect up-to-date information about the number of people sleeping rough, and occupying beds in temporary shelters and homelessness hostels.

Over the course of two hours, Marketing Manager Corporate, Amanda Bailey, alongside her team members from Wesley Mission,  Anglicare, Jewish House, Aftercare and The Wayside Chapel, walked the streets of Waverley, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. These are her reflections.

It’s just after midnight at Bondi Beach. The moon is blazing red, a result of back burning from the weekend. Temperature-wise, it’s a mild night for winter. I wonder what it would have been like to sleep rough in the rain and freezing temperatures a few weeks back.

Two Wesley Mission employees participated in the homeless street count.This is my first count. I ask the Wesley Mission caseworker, I had been partnered with, what to look for—mostly for rough sleepers, but also for people sleeping in cars. It is important not to confuse people experiencing homelessness with backpackers sleeping in campervans. He shows me the signs to look for, and with the help of our phones, we look behind scrub that could provide cover for someone who is sleeping rough.

I'm told that rough sleepers don't often accept help straight away. It takes time to build relationships. It isn't as simple as just offering accommodation. The relationships built with people are key, so that when there is a catalyst or event, the team from Wesley Mission are there when they are ready to accept temporary accommodation. Tonight they know a few people by name that we are on the lookout for, but all the usual areas are empty.

We walk past the skate park, checking cars as we approach the pavilion. Under the bridge it looks like a likely spot where someone sleeps rough. There’s a bike, a bag and some other makeshift materials. I take a blurry photo. Although no one is home, it does feel like we’re intruding into someone's personal space.

Our section of the Waverley area covers the main strip of shops. It seems unlikely that we will see anyone, with most of our territory being open and well lit.

We walk the streets, duck down alleys, look into dark loading docks and check scrub. The only person we see is wrapped up in a makeshift bed on the doorstep of The Wayside Chapel. They are still sleeping rough so they make the tally.

After a few hours we head back to the community centre to debrief, submit our data and share our experiences with the rest of the team. In total we tallied 13 rough sleepers for the Waverley Council area. It was great to be part of this street count.

Alongside five other team members from the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), Missionbeat and St Vincent de Paul Society, Senior Marketing Officer, Olga Korobko headed into the heart of Sydney’s CBD to participate in the City of Sydney’s bi-annual street count. Olga shares her experiences.

I’m surprised how well lit the city is in early hours of the morning. It’s just after 1 am as our team heads out in the streets to begin counting. It’s quiet for a Monday night. I imagine if we counted on a Friday or Saturday night, things would have been very different.

Wesley Mission offers support services for people who are homeless.It's a relatively warm night. When I left home at 11 pm it was 14 degrees. By the time I got back into the car at 3.30 am, it was 19. I can’t imagine what it would be like sleep rough on a really cold night.

Walking pass the Queen Victoria Building on George Street we spot our first rough sleeper. Respecting their privacy and giving them space are our priorities. At the end of the day, this is their home.

While most people are asleep, a few remain awake. As we continue down George Street we see one gentleman walking around Town Hall Square. Near the cinemas, another individual is standing in an alcove with his swag rolled up.

As we walk down Sussex, which merges into Day, and then between Goulburn and Market Streets, we encounter more rough sleepers. We spot a young guy sitting in a laneway gutter smoking a cigarette. A trolley filled with his possessions sits beside him. The real hot spot is around Town Hall and St Andrews Cathedral. Here we see six rough sleepers. I feel moved by the number people out in the street, the fact that they don’t have homes and just seeing the circumstances they’re living in.

As we walk the streets, two Missionbeat vans (run by Mission Australia) are on standby in case we encounter any problems or someone who needs help. Fortunately they are not needed tonight.

After a couple of hours we head back to share our findings. In total our group saw 13 rough sleepers. Overall they counted 386 in Sydney’s CBD.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in the street count. This is my way to give back. Working for Wesley Mission, I’m more aware of the issue of homelessness and have a different perspective than previously. It’s something close to my heart because we’re all closer to homelessness than we think. It can happen to anyone. If I can help just one person who was sleeping rough, I feel I have been able to give back.