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Finding a place

Brendan Nottle with Rob Bothwell, one of the newly-employed concierges who will support people struggling with homelessness in Melbourne
Brendan Nottle with Rob Bothwell, one of the newly-employed concierges who will support people struggling with homelessness in Melbourne.

Recently, police officers brought two 10-year old boys to the Salvos at 69 Bourke Street in Melbourne at 1 a.m.  The boys, from Warragul (some 105 km to the south-east), had missed the last train back. Safe accommodation was provided and the police were able to contact family members and get the boys home safely the next day. That same weekend, a man from Bendigo was physically assaulted in the wee small hours, in Melbourne’s CBD. He received support, compassion and counselling from the Project 614 crew, who encouraged him to call his wife and make his way home the next day.

These are some of hundreds of stories of people who find themselves at the Salvos with nowhere else to go. Most of these stories involve a longer-term dislocation from ‘normality’; from stability and safety, regular meals and loved ones. Australians are increasingly becoming aware of the rough sleepers who, for many and varied reasons, exist in our cities and suburbs and townships, crashing in shopfronts, outside arcades, bus stops, railway stations; in doorways, streets and laneways. 

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On Monday morning, 29 January, the City of Melbourne’s acting Lord Mayor Arron Wood officially launched the ‘Concierge’ program; eight previously homeless people are now employed to liaise each weekday with rough sleepers on Melbourne’s streets and get them the help they need through the Salvos.

The Concierge program has three components. The eight concierges are tasked with: liaising with rough sleepers and encouraging them to access services*;  exercising a custodial bent around the premises by picking up the odd scrap of paper or rubbish; and meeting and greeting staff and owners in the neighbouring businesses, to enquire about people sleeping rough in their doorways overnight. (Not only does this open up avenues to assist homeless people, but it also serves to help break down stereotypical prejudices against the homeless.)

At the launch, Major Brendan Nottle summed up the role Concierge employees play with rough sleepers with this phrase: ‘I’ve been where you are; come inside.’

‘We need to give all homeless people a “go”,’ he told assembled media and well-wishers, as ‘they are human beings who need our help.’

The pilot program stage of Concierge is fully funded by donations raised last year when Major Nottle walked to Canberra to raise awareness of the plight of homeless Australians. Conversations with federal, state and local governments, as well as NGOs, churches, businesses, unions and service groups, are ongoing.  

‘This is classic Salvation Army mission,’ said the major, ‘making yourself available to people at the point of their need – it’s a safety net for the city.’

‘People are going through real hardship,’ acknowledged Mr Wood in response, ‘and we are here to talk about positive change. This is a six-month trial, but it is very easy to see this continuing. Many cities around the world are dealing with growing homelessness – this is a tough issue.

‘This is about trust,’ he added, ‘and about rough sleepers finding someone who can get them on the path out of homelessness; they can know that these concierges have been through what they are going through.’

One concierge who shared what the job meant to him, Robbie, said that ‘this means we can go out on the streets and offer homeless people something to eat, and get them any service they need’.

Speaking to e-connect on 30 January, Major Nottle said that ‘150 people crashed on the floor of the Hamodava café last night, and that is not unusual’.

* Melbourne Project 614 offers access to or liaison with: food and drinks through the Hamodava Café**, accommodation and housing (through the Magpie Nest Housing Project), nursing, physiotherapy, pro bono legal aid, Centrelink contact, toilet and shower facilities, groceries, clothing, gymnasium equipment, short-term storage of personal possessions for rough sleepers, welfare counselling, spiritual support, community and recreation activities
** The Hamodava Café is normally open from 7 a.m. -1.30 p.m. and then from 11 p.m. - 7 a.m. It has recently commenced twilight hours also, running from 5 p.m. -11 p.m.  

Click here for coverage of Major Brendan Nottle’s 2017 Walk for the homeless