On her way to meet with e-connect, on a warm Friday morning, Salvation Army officer Captain Sarah Eldridge spent 10 minutes helping remove a young man from the middle of Lennox Street, Richmond. It’s a busy thoroughfare. The pedestrian, high and incoherent, was in imminent danger of being run over.
The encounter was not unusual.
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‘It is part of urban life, sadly,’ she explains, ‘and people are walking over prone bodies to get into their homes and businesses.’
Sarah shares that the drug problem in Richmond and Abbotsford is so bad ‘that people openly shoot up in doorways and hallways. We’ve heard reports of people having to step over them to get to where they need to be’.
Richmond Corps at 22 Lennox Street, where Sarah is an associate officer*, is part of this community. As is the North Richmond Community Health, at 23 Lennox Street, which will soon trial a medically supervised injecting room.
The decision by the Victorian Government has its supporters and detractors. It is a future event.
The Salvation Army does not set government policy. It serves neither as judge nor jury. It will, however, do its level best to be a good neighbour.
To be situated diagonally across the road, the facility will have one immediate, distinct effect. It will, Sarah explains, ‘take people off the doorsteps and streets and away from playgrounds, providing them with a safe place staffed with medical professionals, drug and alcohol workers, and counsellors’.
‘There are currently kids having to walk over needles and step past people to get to school.’
Sarah and her colleagues, the CO, Captain Catherine Spencer, and Lieut Suyi Xiang, wish the best for all of Richmond’s residents.
Sarah’s main job is as a chaplain at the Collingwood Justice Centre, where she has met and worked with many of the staff members who will be working at the facility. They are good people, she affirms.
As to the relationship with North Richmond Community Health? The local Salvos want to be, as is their practice and custom, as helpful and supportive as possible. It’s how they respond to anyone and everyone they meet. It’s how they roll.
The Salvation Army in Richmond is working hard to build stronger and deeper connections with the Richmond community as a whole. There is a Chinese (Mandarin-speaking) congregation and a newly replanted English-speaking congregation (which commenced last year).
The Salvos want to grow; to be a place of grace and dignity. To be welcoming and accept their neighbours at their point of need.
Suyi is helping Catherine and Sarah get to know Richmond’s Chinese Salvos. Suyi came to faith at Collingwood and left for the Salvos’ Training College from Richmond Corps. Suyi has been instrumental, Sarah explains, in helping her and Catherine ‘understand the Mandarin-speaking congregation, and the various cultural differences we may have’.
Richmond Corps shares soup and bread after church on a Sunday morning with the Chinese congregation. Sarah calls this ‘a mark of community and respect to them… We have amazing volunteers from the community come and cook and serve’.
She adds that ‘the “Connect” (the English-speaking congregation) meal happens as part of the service – each of us bring a plate of food to share, and as part of the service we spend time sharing food, talking about life, etc. Then, after we have finished our meal, we say a benediction and we all help clean up.’
The whole church, Chinese- and English-speakers alike, are learning and celebrating the importance of a shared meal.
‘The meals and the sharing that comes with it are a kind of communion,’ Sarah says, ‘where we can all find and shared God’s love.’
A true and, sadly, predictable endnote: After Sarah left our interview, she had to call an ambulance for another man who was overdosing in a nearby park. Sarah hopes that the men she was a good neighbour to – before and after this interview, and others, experiencing the same or different crises, will come to know that they’re welcome at the Richmond Salvos.
* Captain Sarah Eldridge and Lieut Suyi Xiang are associate corps officers at Richmond Corps, supporting Captain Catherine Spencer (CO). Sarah is also working as the chaplain to the Collingwood Neighbourhood Justice Centre.