Today Melbourne celebrated being acknowledged as the worlds most liveable city in the world by The Economist for the 5th year in a row. What an achievement. Born and bred here, I love Melbourne. But tonight, as I do every Wednesday, I spent the night volunteering with the local soup vans. If we are to celebrate what a wonderful city this is, we must be able to celebrate it as a whole. With 23,000 people experiencing homelessness in Victoria, it is a clear sign that it is too early to celebrate.
Addressing the new volunteers to a night of volunteering with the St Vincent de Paul Society Soup Vans, I tell them that I hope they give this opportunity their all because of the incredible impact they will have on the people we serve. I told them to prepare to be both emotionally and physically exhausted because of what they were about to do. I didn’t realise that the words would ring true to me too.
The night proceeded smoothly. We met many new friends and were introduced to many more. Moving from stop to stop, our new volunteers were exposed to the rewards of volunteering for an incredible program. Turning our van towards a popular stop, I noticed a young man struggling with his crutches as he drags a tired shopping basket to meet us. Seeing him, it gave me one of those striking feelings that dries your throat and leaves you frozen mid sentence.
As the van came to a stop, I jumped out and headed straight towards the man. He quietly asked for food for himself and was adamant to find “non processed” food to take back to his family. Several questions quickly popped into my head. Where is your family? What situation are they in, to warrant asking their son to hobble in crutches to get food for them? Asked if he had far to travel with all of the food, he revealed that it was quite a distance for him to get back to his tent, but he will also have to give the food to his family first. The man was caring for his family he couldn’t stay with, and resorted to living in a tent hidden away.
Whilst the volunteers assisted him with a cup of freshly made hot soup, I tried to find out more about him and grappled at any new information to see if there was anything more we could do. He told me that he wanted to also get a beanie and gloves for a friend who lives in a tent near him. Out of beanies, I told him about our nice warm blankets in the van. Although he was good with blankets, he agreed to have a look as he was concerned his friend would freeze in this weather, and I ran to retrieve a random one for him.
The blanket was a brightly coloured blanket with an incredible message in it. It’s funny how things happen. I specifically remember packing this blanket into the van because of the heartfelt messages from hope and happiness. A 300 Blanket supporter wrote the message and drew smiling faces all over it. When I handed the blanket over to the man, his eyes lit up as he read the message, “and it’s so nice and soft” he smiled. This is exactly why we promote our Message in a Blanket program.
There was very little more that we could do for him. I just hope that he finds a resolution with his family and can find a permanent place to call home soon. We can’t accept homelessness in our award winning city. What kind of city celebrates, when a brother, son, friend, has to hobble on crutches on a freezing night back to his tent? I can only hope that this great city and the people that make it great, will continue to fight for injustice as the volunteers I was with tonight do weekly.
Driving away, I looked back to see him re-reading the message. To whoever that wrote the beautiful message, thank you for spreading a bit of hope.