By ALLISON HORE
It’s a chilly Autumn night in Sydney’s CBD. But the warmth from a barbecue and friendly conversation offer some relief from the cold wind.
Every weekday night volunteers from the grassroots charity group Will2Live set up their barbecue on the corner of Eddy Avenue and Pitt Street to serve up food to Sydney’s homeless.
Will Hawes started the initiative in his mother’s garage in 2012. He brought home-made sandwiches to homeless people around the city, funding the venture himself using his Centrelink payments.
“I ran out of ideas of what I wanted to do with my life. I tried and failed everything and I got fired from every job I did,” Will tells City Hub.
“And I thought if I want to make something of my life I had better make it happen myself and so I thought deeply about what I was going to do and I wanted to do something that was going to help others.”
Seven hundred meals a week
Now Will2Live serves up more than 700 meals a week from its barbecue at Central Station. It also distributes water, clothes, toiletries and bedding to those who are sleeping rough. He says it’s consistency that really helped the charity to grow.
“Oz Harvest used to drive by and see me here every night, and then one of the drivers started stopping once a week. They started giving me food one night a week and now it’s every night,” he explains.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 116,000 homeless people on census night in 2016, or 50 people for every 10,000. This number includes people sleeping on the streets, in cars, at crisis centres and in overcrowded boarding house style accommodation. More than 43,500 homeless people are under the age of 25.
The City of Sydney’s last street count in August 2018 found almost 280 rough sleepers in the local council area.
To reduce homelessness in Sydney, the Council has a dedicated homelessness unit – the first of its kind in the country – and invests $2.2 million every year in the operations of this unit. The Council has also committed a further $3.5 million over the next three years to support homeless services through the NSW government’s Department of Family and Community Services.
In February this year, the Council announced that it was contributing $100,000 to help the St Vincent de Paul Society establish an Institute of Global Homelessness office in Sydney. The institute aims to end homelessness in 150 cities around the world by 2030. Sydney is the 10th city to sign on to the project.
St Vincent de Paul doesn’t receive any direct funding from the Catholic church but it has a close relationship with the church’s parishes and schools. But St Vincent de Paul says it gives aid to those in need regardless of their religion.
“Members and volunteers assist people in need and do not discriminate against cultural, religious or political beliefs,” St Vincent de Paul says on its website.
Other major charities offering assistance to homeless people are also religiously affiliated.
Recently, more grassroots groups have been coming down to Central Station to serve food with bibles in hand. It’s a bit of a “turf war,” says Will.
In contrast to the church organisations, Will2Live is secular, serving up food without strings attached. Will says this is what makes them so popular with the homeless community.
Praying for your supper
“There was a gap in the market for someone who has similar life experiences to them, who was around their age, young and wasn’t going to come and preach religion. You go around the corner when other charities get here and they’re reading the bible to them before they give them food.”
The volunteers come from all walks of life. One tells City Hub he became involved with Will2Live after walking past drunk after a night on the town five years ago. He thought it looked interesting and promised he’d come back the next day. Since then he’s helped out every week.
The restaurants and cafes around Central Station also lend a helping hand, passing leftover food and ingredients to Will at the end of each day to distribute to the barbecue guests.
Will2Live has a vision beyond Sydney’s CBD and is looking to expand its operations to other areas of the city as well as regional NSW over the next three years. Its five-year plan is to operate across Australia.
But to reach its goal, the organisation need funding, says Will.
“We’re trying to run a campaign of getting people to donate $15 a week. It’s not a lot of money but it helps us with the barbecue and with the day-to-day operations.”