“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat”

By Bindy Taylor

Posted in Culture

National Homelessness Week is held annually in the first full week of August – this year it’s being held from Monday 1 to Sunday 7 August. Pilgrim Uniting Church is one of many church communities committed to supporting people who are currently without a home. Bindy Taylor spoke to Rev Sandy Boyce and volunteer Barbara Dawe about some of their current initiatives.

Next Tuesday people in households across Australia will sit down to fill in their Census forms. But while boxes are being ticked and spaces are being filled in the comfort of homes and offices, there will be over 100,000* Australians who are currently homeless simply trying to find a warm place to spend the night.

There is so single cause of homelessness; no single type of person it effects. Homelessness may be the result of a financial struggle, issues with mental ill health, domestic or family violence situations, or a systemic failure, such as lack of support after a traumatic life event.

People struggling with these issues need the love and support of others.

Uniting Church SA stalwart Barbara Dawe (pictured, with Steve) has been supporting those experiencing homelessness in Adelaide for over 35 years. She is a regular volunteer at a Sunday night dinner offered to those seeking a meal. The Adelaide-based initiative evolved out of Maughan Church and was later transferred to Pilgrim Uniting Church.

Barb comments on how the dinners evolved:

“We first started feeding people before the night time service at Maughan Church. We would bring in sandwiches – but soon we realised there was a need for a much larger meal.”

This offering of a larger meal continued with the move to Pilgrim Uniting Church.

“Volunteers from the church began making meals to serve every Sunday night. In winter we share soup and bread, cake and fruit; and in summer, cold meat and salad.”

The volunteers at Pilgrim work on roster systems, which see them volunteer every six weeks on a Sunday night. The doors at the Pilgrim Centre, open at 5.30pm. Prayer and grace are offered prior to the meal.

“Having the Sunday night dinner at Pilgrim synchronised well with the Pilgrim Lounge and services we offer at the back of the church,” says Rev Sandy Boyce, the minister at Pilgrim.

“We welcome people into that area between 10am and 2pm every day to grab a coffee or read the paper, play jigsaws or charge their phones. We also offer a monthly lunch-time meal, which is a traditional favourite – bangers and mash, tuna mornay, or shepherd’s pie.

“Our aim is normalise the environment for people. We are not case workers, just friendly people who want to provide a welcoming and safe space,” Sandy continues.

“We know the regular Lounge guests by name and we are there if they need a chat, prayer or even a referral to a community organisation or mental health service. It is really delightful when people return to tell us they have found a home and things are going well for them.”

The work done through the Lounge at Pilgrim and the weekly Sunday night dinners offered through Pilgrim Centre could not take place without the support, gifts and hard work of the many volunteers involved.

“The volunteers also play an important part in what happens at Pilgrim. They focus on cooking meals which are simple and nutritious – nothing is out of a packet,” says Sandy.

“The volunteers are also relational – they have a good rapport with regulars and are welcoming to those who may come along for the first time.”

Uniting Church congregations and faith communities across Australia find different ways to support those who are homeless or “doing it tough” – through their own initiatives, UnitingCare organisations or other groups/offerings. Does your church community offer or engage with any of these activities? Leave a comment below and let us know!

UnitingCare Wesley Port Adelaide is currently running their annual “Hang it up for Poverty” campaign, which provides support for people who are homeless. To find out more visit hangitupforpoverty.org.au

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*User statistics form the ABS Census of Housing and Population and the AIHW Specialist Homeless Services data collection estimate that 105,237 Australians are homeless.


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