Article on Coats for the Homeless in the Daily Liberal
Keeping warm as the chill comes
By KIM BARTLEY, Daliy Liberal
WHEN the nighttime temperature plummets in Dubbo, Barb Kelly’s thoughts turn to the people sleeping rough on the riverbank.
The president of St Vincent de Paul’s St Jude’s Conference and her volunteer colleagues know many of their faces.
Dubbo’s destitute and homeless seek and gain help from St Jude’s Conference, working hand-in-hand with St Vincent de Paul’s St Brigid’s Conference in alleviating hardship and hunger.
Packages including food, cooking utensils and bedding are distributed with love and care after interviews in a humble office beside the St Vincent de Paul store in Brisbane Street.
Pre-used coats are also distributed to Dubbo’s homeless, mostly men more than 40 years of age who often shun the opportunity to have a roof over their heads.
Mrs Kelly watches with delight as they try on the old coats.
“When they put them on, we tell them how wonderful they look,” she said.
“You can see them thinking ‘I’m going to be warm tonight’.”
She believes they will be “ecstatic” when a big box that arrived this week is unpacked.
Inside are 10 new coats made specifically for people who “find themselves without a home this winter”.
A Dubbo-based member of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, better known as the Sovereign Order of Malta, organised the delivery.
Dr David Schuster, one of only two Knights of Malta in country NSW, acted in part because of coverage of homelessness in Dubbo in the Daily Liberal.
He tapped into the order’s Australia-wide and non-profit Coats for the Homeless project that is building momentum through public support.
The order reports that every day almost 20,000 Australians sleep rough on the streets.
Half of all the people who request accommodation from the homeless service system are turned away because of a lack of beds, leaving them “extremely vulnerable” to the weather.
The order sent emissaries to Matthew Talbot Hostel in Sydney in the process of designing a coat that could ease the misery of being cold.
Dr Schuster, who served Dubbo for 40 years as an anaesthetist, joined Mrs Kelly in checking out one of the three-quarter-length, lightweight and quilted garments on their arrival.
“It is shower-proof, with two large internal and two large external pockets with velcro seals so that the precious belongings of homeless people can be secreted out of sight,” he said.
Homeless people have told the order their “biggest fear” is being assaulted.
Across Australia 2500 of the coats will be distributed for free this year, up 25 per cent on 2012.
Dr Schuster is keen for the rollout of the coats to begin before winter takes hold.
“I am lobbying the Knights to try and get things moving a few months earlier next year and in the future,” he said.
The doctor-turned-farmer is highlighting the important role of the public in expanding the project by hosting morning tea in their homes, workplaces and elsewhere to raise funds.
Donations can also be made by visiting orderofmalta.org.au.
Mrs Kelly does not think it will take long for the brand new coats to be snapped up.
“We will save them (the coats) for the destitute, anyone else walking in can have one of the coats from the store,” she said.
The bulk of the people making contact with St Jude’s and St Brigid’s conferences are not homeless, but desperate for food and unable to pay their bills.
In the 2012-13 financial year they received 1970 requests for assistance, helped a total of 3700 people including children, distributed parcels of food worth $69,000, and handed out $80,780 in electricity vouchers provided by the state government.
Mrs Kelly made an appeal yesterday for warm blankets, linen and non-electrical cooking utensils such as saucepans.
Public generosity is fundamental to the operations of St Jude’s Conference and St Brigid’s Conference, led by Pat Yeo.
“The food we give out from our centre comes from the clothing that’s sold in the St Vincent de Paul shop,” Mrs Kelly said.
“Every time you donate something it comes back.”