There’s no denying that COVID-19 is having a huge impact on everyone – from health to the economy, we’ve all undergone huge changes to our lives over the past weeks.
But what about the more vulnerable members of our community? How can we help them?
The incredible team at the Wayside Chapel in the heart of Kings Cross, headed by Pastor Jon Owen, are stepping up and evolving their services to help keep our fellow Potts Point residents alive and well. I had a chat with Pastor Jon about Wayside’s most pressing needs and how Potts Points residents can help in this time of dire need.
Jon, firstly, thank you for the work the Wayside team and its volunteers does for the most vulnerable residents in our community.
Thanks, we’ve got an amazing community and team here. As a society, we are only as healthy as our sickest person. Our collective immunity is strengthened when we do our bit for the most vulnerable. As we know, this beautiful area of Potts Point, Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo have a lot of people sleeping rough, as well as those living below the poverty line in public housing. We need to do everything in our power to keep them alive. No matter who you are, your social connections are critical to your sense of self and identity. For many people who are sleeping on the streets, or who are housebound, their social connections are essential for their survival. We can’t withdraw that.
How has the Coronavirus outbreak changed the way that Wayside operates?
The simple fact is if you’re sleeping rough, you can’t self-isolate. Our philosophy is that we’re going to beat this by setting ourselves up for a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, we have entirely changed our operating model to focus on the delivery of essential frontline services.
We stripped back all non-essential services. We’re employing a harm minimisation approach to help flatten the curve for people who are doing it toughest on our streets and putting in emergency relief measures for their basic survival. We will be opening three hours a day in the mornings providing takeaway breakfast and lunch, access to showers and healthcare, plus emergency crisis support to refer visitors into emergency housing accommodation. We can help our community with warm clothing, food packs, as well as legal advice, housing, Centrelink and medical advice.
We’re also putting robust precautions in place to ensure Wayside teams’ remain safe. When we close our buildings in the afternoons we thoroughly clean them, before hitting the streets to deliver services directly to people whilst maintaining safe physical distancing – whether they are people sleeping rough or those who are housebound and in need of care.
How is the government dealing with the concerns of your community?
The government is now talking about an inner-city homelessness strategy during the Coronavirus outbreak. If the virus gets into the population of rough sleepers, we need to find makeshift solutions, so they can isolate for two weeks and recuperate.
As an organisation, we’ve been encouraging the government to take up the opportunity to use empty hotel rooms, or underutilised properties, by putting up partitions, as well as giving access to showers, toilets and medical support.
Have you seen an immediate increase in the numbers of people on the street?
The truth is we really have no idea what is coming. We’re already starting to see more people, as other helping agencies close down around us. We’re also slowly seeing a trickle of people losing their homes as they lose jobs, and face mortgage stress.
Reports from Italy indicate there has been a massive spike in domestic violence. So, sadly, it is anticipated they’ll be more women and children seeking our services in the months ahead.
How can the residents of Potts Point help?
Our number one ask is for our community to give cash donations to our Emergency Appeal so that we can continue to support people facing homelessness, and direct funds to the areas of most need.
We are calling on the public to bring us emergency provisions, so that we can provide care packs to sleeping rough. When you’re self-isolating at home, it’s an excellent opportunity to go through your wardrobes. As we’re heading into winter, we’re looking for new or second-hand warm clothes such as shoes, towels, blankets, coats, jumpers, hoodies and pants, as well as new socks, undies and bras. We also need backpacks and fresh personal hygiene products. Before the virus, we had a staple of hotel rooms products supplied to us, but that will come to a stop now. Feminine hygiene products are also needed.
Donated items can be dropped in directly to our Community Service Centre in the mornings when it is open, or in the donation chute in Orwell Lane at the side of the building when we are closed.
A cash donation would be beneficial, no doubt?
Wayside gets less than 10% of its funding from the government. We do a lot of our fundraising ourselves. However, due to the Coronavirus, we’ve had to cancel all of our fundraising events. We’ve brought forward our Wayside Winter Appeal in response. It isn’t about keeping Wayside alive, it’s about keeping people on the streets alive.
What about Potts Point residents who want to volunteer?
Between 40%-60% of our volunteers are over 70. While many of them wanted to keep helping, we have had to refuse on health grounds. We’ve mobilised our staff into a frontline team, but as we’re only a week into adapting our model, we are still in the process of deciding about our volunteer roster. In the meantime people can sign up to our volunteer portal on our website to register your interest. We ask residents to join our social media channels for updates: Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
What do you think is the broader lesson that we can learn in these challenging times?
Kindness and compassion mean the most in a crisis. Physical distancing doesn’t have to mean social distancing. Potts Point has a lot of isolated older people. It’s incredible how important text or phone calls are right now. Our mantra is love overcomes fear. What we need to do is work out ways to increase our connections, but reduce our infections. We’ll get through this together.
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