I don’t usually work after lunchtime on Fridays. However, I happened to be at our centre at 4 o’clock one Friday afternoon when I received an urgent call from a staff member from another service provider. She phoned to say that a woman and her five children, who were fleeing family violence, desperately needed help. We found accommodation for them through the generosity of a very kind benefactor from the wider Gold Coast community. He paid for them to stay in an apartment for four and half weeks until they were able to get settled.
The mother said that she thinks she would be dead at her husband’s hands today if this accommodation had not been sought. She was so fearful of her husband finding her and her kids while they were in this emergency housing, that she kept their curtains closed even though the apartment was on the beachfront and had ocean views.
We have seen an increase in women and children facing this situation during the COVID-19 period.
The kind benefactor heard me speak on the radio about St John’s Crisis Centre, later contacting me to say he wanted to help. He donated a car that raised over $100,000 for a fundraiser. Immediately after the fundraising event, he contacted me to offer a round-the-world trip for two for the following year’s fundraiser
There are also many who donate or assist in smaller, but still very significant, ways – and every bit adds up and helps. We have people who donate $10 every month to us. They aren’t rich people. There are on low incomes and choose to skip a coffee or treat once a week to save that money so they can donate monthly.
At St John’s Crisis Centre, we recently marked our 40th anniversary. The Centre, which is located in the heart of Surfers Paradise, was founded in the early 1980s by parishioners Joan Hancock and Joyce Forbes. They felt called to care for people experiencing homelessness in Surfers.
Our mission is to carry out the words of Jesus by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and showing hospitality to strangers – caring for the needy in ways that recognises each individual’s dignity and encourages their independence.
We are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 1pm. We serve a hot lunch daily. People who come to the lunch are then given a sandwich, some fruit and goodies to take away with them for dinner. Some people who come to the meal have homes, but they are lonely, so they come for companionship and conversation. We rely solely on community donations to run this service.
When I am out and about and people ask me what I do, I often have people remarking about our clients that, “They choose to be homeless”. In reply, I give them scenarios, asking, “How do you apply for a job if you don’t have an address?” or “How do you keep a job when you have nowhere to sleep or shower?” or “How do you apply for a job without computer and internet access?” Initially, I tend to get blank looks until I see pennies dropping, as the person I am chatting with starts thinking about what could happen if they lost their house or car or got sick. It is so easy for people to become homeless today, especially with declining family support structures.
When we do our emergency relief interviews and ask the prospective client in need of help for the details of their next of kin, we are often told that they have nobody. St John’s then becomes their family. They know that they can come here and feel respected and loved, through both practical assistance and a friendly chat.
It can be stressful for our staff and volunteers because of these kinds of conversations they have every day with people who are so desperate or lonely. We debrief and talk through things regularly to support each other.
Some of our volunteers are parishioners and some are from the wider community. They are all kind people who just want to help. They include a former school principal and an ex-hairdresser who are not churched people. The volunteers put incredible TLC into everything they do. For example, they set the lunch tables up with cutlery, napkins and flowers, so the environment is home-like.
Pre-COVID, we had 60 volunteers. Slowly, they are coming back with the easing of restrictions and increased vaccination rates. We hear so many bad stories in the news every day, but there are so many good people out there as well. We don’t hear enough about these people and their stories, such as the kind of people who come in at 6 o’clock in the morning to cook 60 meals for people.
A woman came to us after her husband had passed away. For many years she had nursed him because he had multiple sclerosis. She was devasted when he died and said to me, “Dianne, please give me something to do.” She has been cooking with us ever since. That was seven years ago. She is now 84 years old. She is a tiny woman, but so strong and such a delight.
People can be quite nasty to those who are experiencing homelessness and so they need all the love and care they can get. A parishioner volunteer recently said to me, “If this was my child, I would want them to be treated with respect.”
It all happens inside the church on Hamilton Avenue in Surfers Paradise because we don’t have a hall. People are fed in the church. Emergency relief interviews are held in the church. It’s God’s house, so the church is the best place for people to be cared for. I think Jesus would love the fact that His house is being used to help His people in need every day.
We also have an emergency relief arm that is funded by the Department of Social Services in the Federal Government. I can’t speak highly enough of the team in the Department – they bend over backwards to support us. We can only offer our emergency relief services with Federal Government’s funding. Through this service we provide food and fuel vouchers, second-hand clothing and bedding, among other necessities.
We also run a school lunch program at a Surfers Paradise school where we feed 30 kids a day because their parents can’t afford the food. Kids can’t learn with an empty tummy. We do what we can to help keep kids in school as education helps break the poverty cycle. We have another benefactor who gives us money every month so we can run the program. I met him five years ago when he approached me out of the blue and handed me $2,000 to give to families so they could celebrate Christmas.
We are currently running a pilot program with a community welfare nurse who offers help with checking medication, wound dressing and health referrals. Through this pilot, we are offering an outreach program, so the nurse and social welfare worker can visit people in their homes and assist them, for example if they have mobility limitations.
We are also running a COVID-19 vaccine clinic once a week with the help of a local GP. As people experiencing homelessness sometimes don’t trust government, for example due to mental health reasons, they may not heed government advice, including about vaccination. However, our clients trust us. So, if I say, “Come and get vaccinated at St John’s,” then they are much more willing to get vaccinated.
The church is a lovely hive of activity every day.
Editor’s note: If you would like to find out more about St John’s Crisis Centre visit their website or contact Dianne Kozik for a tour of the centre. If you would like to donate either a one-off amount or monthly, please visit the St John’s Crisis Centre website or contact Dianne Kozik on (07) 5531 6013 or via firstname.lastname@example.org (please leave a message – phone sometimes aren’t answered when the St John’s team are helping people face to face).
If you are in immediate danger, call 000 for police or ambulance help. For a list of helplines and websites available to women, children and men, visit this page on the Queensland Government website.