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‘Young people want to help’

Lauren Eudey teaching children

Lauren Eudey takes school students through the choices and hazards homeless people face; they then workshop different strategies. (Asking themselves questions such as, Do I pay for accommodation with the bit of money I have, or do I risk sleeping on the streets? Do I buy food, or use money for clothing or transportation to seek help?)
Then, later in the morning, the students are guided around parts of the CBD, stopping in alleyways and public places where people sleep rough at night.

The Salvation Army’s school development manager, Lauren Eudey, is a busy person.

A qualified youth worker with 10 years’ experience working in youth programs and service delivery in the sector, for more than two years Lauren has helped to teach more than 7,000 students what The Salvation Army does to help marginalised and underprivileged Australians.

That’s all while raising Owen (aged one), Kyran (three) and Reuben (five) with husband, Stephen.

In terms of the interaction with schoolkids, Lauren explains that the students come in to Melbourne Project 614 at 69 Bourke Street, Melbourne, to find out what choices and hazards homeless people face; they then workshop different strategies. (Asking themselves questions such as, ‘Do I pay for accommodation with the bit of money I have, or do I risk sleeping on the streets? ‘Do I buy food, or use money for clothing or transportation to seek help?’)

Then, later in the morning, the students are guided around parts of the CBD, stopping in alleyways and public places where people sleep rough at night.

While some primary schools have sent students to the project, hosted at Melbourne Project 614, it’s mostly high school students from years 9-12, and some doing their V Cal (certificate of applied learning), who have sat, listened to and talked with Lauren and her team.

‘We try to engage with them, and the change from when they first walk in, to when we do our walking tour of some rough sleeping spots, is massive,’ Lauren explains.

‘It is a privilege to be seen as “safe” to have conversations with these students.’

Responses are as diverse as the young individuals who come through the door to meet Lauren. ‘Empathy is a vital part of our work,’ Lauren says. ‘We love it when groups come back and tell us what they learnt.’

One group of kids who Lauren had thought were finding the discussions confronting and ‘a bit hard at first, chose to raise $1,000 to help homeless people – we were blown away by their responses. You can talk and teach, but you never know how kids feel and think until they tell you.

‘We get super-insightful comments from kids who don’t seem to be listening, and there are so many positive stories that we know about; I’m sure there are more that we never hear about.’

Lauren says that her team’s work would not be possible without ‘the teachers, who are our partners in this work; they value what we can show the students, and they hope the experience will help to foster empathy and understanding in their pupils – and they have these same conversations with their students when they get back to their schools.’

Sometimes, Lauren says, ‘teachers can be surprised and shocked if students disclose their own experiences, or their own awareness of other people’s instances of homelessness or Family and Domestic Violence… we do help educate the teachers themselves sometimes, but the teachers are all extremely supportive.

‘They give their students the space and freedom to connect, and get beyond the knee-jerk reaction of judging homeless people as unworthy of our compassion.

‘The work we do in the initial talk is a build up before we walk around and share true stories of where and how homeless people survive. It helps the students realise that life is hard. There are reasons why people are homeless and hungry, and for some students it is very confronting. It is a question of maturity sometimes. We appeal to the part of a child’s life that does care, and does want to learn.

In summary, Lauren says that ‘young people are, for the most part, really kind and keen on justice. They want to help.’