Right now, there are approximately 6,000 people experiencing homeless in South Australia. Men, women and children without safe or permanent accommodation who sleep on couches and floors, in cars or outdoors in the elements.
People become homeless for many reasons including housing crisis, domestic violence, mental health or other health problems and relationship/family breakdowns. Statistics show that 60% of people experiencing homelessness are aged under 35 and that one in five people seeking homeless support services in Adelaide in 2018-19, were children. It is a travesty that there are unaccompanied children and young people entering homelessness services.
In August, I attended the National Homelessness Conference in Canberra where I joined policy makers, practitioners and those with lived experience of homelessness from across Australia. One of the conference themes was tackling homelessness in our own backyard. This reminded me of how Baptist Care SA’s WestCare Centre came to be.
Planning for the WestCare Centre began when the Flinders Street Church and Bentham Street Christian Church joined forces in 1909 and the Bentham Street Church was sold. As the Trust Deed stipulated that the proceeds of the sale be devoted to mission work in the western part of Adelaide, the Trustees bought a ‘fine block of land’ with three cottages on it in Wright Street. At the rear of the cottages was ‘ample room for the erection of the noble street of buildings’, which is where the original West End Mission was constructed before being officially opened in 1913.
The West End Mission was established in response to what the founders saw as happening in their own community. It provided a safe place for people living on the streets in some of the poorest areas of Adelaide and records show it regularly supported people who were starving, without bedclothes and sending out SOS requests for warm clothing.
Today, over 100 years later at that same site, the WestCare Centre continues to provide a safe place for people experiencing homelessness along with vital support services to those most in need. Unfortunately, we still see people who are hungry and without warm clothing and still call for donations of blankets, which are as much in need today as they were back then.
Today we also provide overnight accommodation when the temperature plummets or soars. When the South Australian Government declares a Code Blue or Code Red extreme weather event, the Baptist Care SA WestCare Centre sets up portable beds in the chapel and provides a safe place to sleep for anyone in need. We are the only ones in Adelaide to do this. No other centre in Adelaide provides overnight accommodation.
Since January, the State Government has declared four extreme weather events. Each time, Baptist Care SA’s WestCare Centre has opened the doors of its chapel and welcomed an average of 35 people to stay overnight. If we do not provide this vital service, most of the people who stay with us are likely to sleep rough — in parks, doorways and laneways. Our overnight guests are also provided with nourishing meals and access to shower and laundry facilities, as well as a listening ear in a non-judgemental environment.
From my seat at the National Convention Centre, I reviewed the list of national and international speakers, many of whom have worked in homelessness for over a decade, who over the next two days would offer their expertise and experiences as part of the National Homelessness Conference. With topics related to COVID responses, domestic violence and homelessness, and ending homelessness for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, I was reminded that it is collectively and in community that our best efforts to end homelessness will be rewarded.
As I looked around at the people sitting in the same auditorium, all of whom were engaged and motivated, I remembered the actions of the West End Baptist Church over a century ago, when they looked at their own backyard and responded with compassion and practicality. As I did, I felt that it takes only a few people to make a huge difference in the lives of many.
Just as the people at the West End Baptist Church did over a century ago and the Baptist Care SA WestCare Centre still does today.
Baptist Care SA is a proud member of the Toward Home Alliance, working together and giving hope to prevent and end homelessness.