When A Small Gift Becomes A Big Deal

When A Small Gift Becomes A Big Deal



Eleven dollars and sixty cents.  That was all.  And most of that was in coins.  This is all that remains in a young dad’s pocket as he contemplates the past year.  A year that, to him, seemed full of let downs and failures.  His battles with homelessness, unemployment, past trauma, and heartache all paled in comparison to the fact that he was unable to care for his young daughter, and indeed, unable to buy her a single gift for Christmas. 

This time of year brings with it some very strong emotions for everyone.  For some, it is the excitement on a child’s face as they open their presents, or delicious food lovingly prepared and shared with family and friends.  For others, however, it can be one of the most distressful and lonely times of the year.  As the calendar ticks over to count down another year, we are inclined to look back and assess the highs and lows of the past 12 months.  This can be an opportunity to reflect and realise just how far we’ve come, but it can also be a time of deep regret and sadness, knowing all too well the feeling of despair that comes with the perception that nothing ever seems to get better. 

It is for these people that services like ours are called upon to help, not only with the day to day work that we do with our clients, but also to go a step further with our compassion and generosity.  Mackillop, in this regard, is much more than just the sum of its parts. We, as an organisation, as a community, rally together to fundraise gifts, toys, food hampers, and social outings.  Undoubtedly, with all the chaos involved in the coordination and logistics required to make this happen, it is easy to forget just how much these things mean to our people.

I was recently reminded…

As I hand the brightly wrapped presents to the young man to give to his daughter, a remarkable change comes over him.  His eyes brighten, his posture straightens, his head lifts.  There is a pride and a presence in this small victory.  When the little girl sees her dad, she runs at full speed towards him oblivious to the loot in the bag he’s holding.  The only thing she sees is Daddy.  After a long embrace, he smiles as he hands her the bag of gifts.  “Look what I’ve got for you sweetie…”.  In this moment, all of his feelings of inadequacy wash away as his daughter’s little face beams with excitement.  She smiles with the pride of a daughter who knows that she’s special.  Who knows she’s loved.  As my client turns his gaze to me, with his little girl held tightly in his arms, he gives a look of gratitude that was not meant for me, but for us all.  


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Sydney's Addison Hotel Opens Its Doors To Homeless Youth In Australian First

Sydney's Addison Hotel Opens Its Doors To Homeless Youth In Australian First

The Addison Hotel will get young people off the streets and into safe accommodation. 


Using an empty building to house the homeless ... it is a pretty obvious idea but one that has never taken off in Australia.

For the first time, a vacant hotel just out of the Sydney CBD has opened its doors to young people who do not have a roof over their head.

The Addison Hotel in Kensington was destined to lie dormant for the next year while a development plan awaits approval, but the building owner saw an opportunity to accommodate those on the street.

The hotel will be a place of refuge for people needing crisis accommodation or just a safe place to live and study while they stabilise their circumstances.

Building owner TOGA is providing the 42 fully-furnished rooms, each with their own bathroom and kitchenette, revenue free and hopes other property owners follow suit.


Managing director Allan Vidor said there were many empty buildings across Sydney that could be immediately available to the homeless.

"We had this empty building sitting here and we thought there has got to be something we can do with it that will create some good," he said.

"No single level of government or service can tackle youth homelessness — innovative solutions must be borne from innovative collaborations between public and private sectors.   "Everyone deserves the opportunity to have housing."

A one-stop shop

As well as a place to call home, those staying will have their best chance to get back on their feet with free access to food, clothes and laundry facilities.

A 'take what you need, pay what you can' supermarket run by OzHarvest has been set up in the lobby and will only stock rescued food.

A clothing rescue service, Thread Together, has also opened next to the hotel and provides brand new clothing to those doing it tough.

OzHarvest kitchen at The Addison
The rescued food supermarket run by OzHarvest has been set up in the hotel's lobby. 


Orange Sky Laundry, the world's first mobile laundry service, will visit The Addison once a week to offer its free services.

It is an all-encompassing set up which is aimed at restoring dignity to young people who are faced with issues such as unemployment, family breakdown and mental illness.

Critics have raised concerns putting young people together in a facility is a big risk with anti-social behaviour likely, however those behind The Addison Project actually believe the opposite.

Orange Sky Laundry set up at The Addison
Those taking refuge at The Addison will be able to Orange Sky Laundry facilities once a week.


"We don't share the view that it's a risk," said Rebecca Mullins, chief executive of My Foundations Youth Housing, who are managing the accommodation.

"We believe young people together are able to support each other and understand what they are going through."

Professor David MacKenzie, researcher on homelessness with Swinburne University, said the negative stereotype that youth would cause trouble needed to be quashed.

"I have a lot more faith in young people," he said. "They can do a lot more positive things than negative."

Social housing allocated to very few youth

Forty-three per cent of Australia's homeless population is under 25 years old, and in New South Wales, young people hold less than 2 per cent of the 140,000 social housing tenancies.

Room in The Addison
There are 42 rooms now open for those needing crisis accommodation or temporary shelter.


Many have their access to education and training cut off and one in six are on their own.

Professor MacKenzie said 'pop-up' shelter idea was innovative and important.

"We need early intervention and rapid rehousing ... we don't actually have a youth housing sector housing in Australia," he said.

"We shouldn't have homelessness in Australia, not in a country like this."

When a young person becomes homeless it costs $15,000 per person per year in health and justice services, he said.

So far, 56 household groups, either singles or women with children, have come through The Addison and have been provided with 511 nights of accommodation since opening at the end of January.

Family and Community Services (FACS) has control over 14 of the rooms for emergency accommodation for up to 28 days, and the remaining 28 rooms are affordable transitional accommodation and $150 a week.

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Tammy - Realities Of Life On The Street

Tammy - Realities Of Life On The Street

Growing up, I saw a lot of homelessness. I always wanted to help them. It's a very big passion of mine.

When my kids were younger, I was in a position where I could have been homeless. 

It was a breakup of marriage. I had no financial support from anywhere and the bills just got too much. 

It got to the point where I was definitely facing being on the streets with my kids and that feeling was so horrible.

Just the thought of it is enough to bring me to tears. To see people on the street and actually living it, I just can't not do anything.

When I see someone who's homeless I have to stop and talk to them. At first they can be standoffish, but when they understand you want to help it's amazing. 

You get a lot of tears and hugs. It's really rewarding to see the difference it makes in people's lives. One bottle of water and a sandwich might mean the whole week to them, whereas for me it's just $5 worth of change. Any spare time I have I go out and do it. It's an addictive feeling. 

I've actually put myself into difficult situations safety-wise. There was one gentleman who I helped as much as I could. It turned out that he was a predator and I put myself in a position where something bad could have happened. That's when I had to take a step back and say, "I need to learn what I'm doing".

I'm going to uni to study social work, because I'm planning on starting a homeless sanctuary. It'll be like a drop-in centre for people who want a hand-up and not a hand-out. A place where people can build up their self-esteem to get them into their own homes and jobs. 

Last Christmas I did a lunch on the Strand for the homeless, to make sure they had a hot meal on Christmas Day. It was huge: we fed a lot of homeless people. It made me realise there are a lot of cracks in the services for homeless people.

The longer people are on the streets, the more their self-confidence and dignity goes. It's demeaning and it's far more common in Townsville than most people think.

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Alex - Realities Of Life On The Street

Alex - Realities Of Life On The Street

All the services around Nowra now know about us up here, all at the same spot (Nowra Showgrounds).

We've got one person who comes from the Aboriginal Medical Service who checks up on us every couple of days. He organises meetings with the council and that's good. But it would be good if people come up from services and ask if we need anything to do with housing, or case management work. 

I think a lot of homeless people need more help with their mental health and even opportunities to learn a little about self respect.

I've got a tent. I live pretty comfortably. It's basically like constant camping. We've got power up there so we can charge our phones, but we are still always cooking off the fire.

I miss waking up and having a shower. That's probably my main thing. And I miss having a safe environment for my two children to visit. They are 14 months old and even though I'm on good terms with their mother, she won't let me have them because I don't have a safe environment for them.

For me to get up and cook my dinner it takes 10 times longer than it would if I had a kitchen. To have a shower sometimes you have to wait three days before you can get back to somewhere like the Shoalhaven Homeless Hub.

I'm on youth allowance until I turn 22, so I can't afford a house in Nowra. Not even in Sanctuary Point where it's a little bit cheaper. They don't even give me a go.

I've lived in about three other people's houses, but something would happen and I've just had bad experiences living with people I don't know. I didn't like it at all.

Up at the showground there are probably about 20 homeless people. The Homeless Hub puts on these free breakfasts, but a lot of people are ashamed about getting a free feed. We are all homeless but some don't like to take advantage of the resources the community has, but I think they should.

I think that every homeless person should utilise the services in the community to make themselves as comfortable as they can, and as recognised as they can, so that people will know when to help.

If you don't ask for help no-one knows that you need it.

It took me a long time. I'm only 21 years old and it took me four years of being homeless to realise that I need to talk to housing — even Richmond Partners in Recovery — any sort of case management services like that.

If you are homeless you will not be able to do it yourself. It's too hard to pick yourself back up without asking for someone's hand, asking for help.

Contributed with assistance from the Shoalhaven Homeless Hub.

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Pixels - Realities Of Life On The Street

Pixels - Realities Of Life On The Street

Homelessness is something that we observe in the street, in the shop doorways, in our parks and occasionally on TV or newspapers, but seldom have any close contact with in our day-to-day lives. It's generally not until you engage with a homeless person on a more personal level that the true reality of their circumstances really hits home.

Our newly established camera club was in search of new premises when a local businessman offered us a vacant building, which we jumped at without hesitation. 

On our first visit we met Mick, who had made his home under the loading dock stairs with an old couch and some cardboard boxes serving as storage for his few possessions. Mick would often be found sitting in the sun smoking a "roll your own" or when money was scarce he would be puffing on rolled up cardboard, accompanied by an unimaginably loud and persistent cough. It seemed never unpleasant enough to make him give up the smokes.

It was obvious that his diet was not, good judging by the empty fast food containers, cans and bottles that were scattered about his living area. We would often stop and talk on the way to club meetings and it was obvious he enjoyed the conversation, which in the most part was about how much he appreciated us stopping for a chat. 

Mick was a well-known local character around town and many people helped out with food, goods and offers of accommodation. It seemed that he was quite content with his life on the street and preferred the independence of his own arrangements even though the discomfort and the Albany winter weather must have been very hard to endure.

I once came across him sitting in a local park enjoying the sun and a smoke. I had my camera with me I asked if it was ok to take a few photos. 

"Yeah, no worries" he replied in his broad European accent. He proved to be a bit of a poser and was obviously enjoying being the centre of attention. Sadly, just a few weeks later there was news in the media reporting the discovery of a deceased homeless person in a local public toilet. We all sensed that it would almost certainly be Mick and this was eventually confirmed, leaving us feeling that we could and should have somehow done more.

Sometime later we heard that his son in Croatia had been trying to contact him without success for a considerable time since Mick emigrated alone when his son was just four years old. It was only after his father's death decades later that he sadly discovered his whereabouts. An appeal was made for any information on his life and many people forwarded photos and personal accounts of what they knew about Mick, which must have brought some closure for his family.

Although our encounter with Mick was all too brief, it brought home to us all in a very graphic way how, as a society, we really should be doing much better in looking after those who are in need of a helping hand. 

Hopefully programs like this will go some way to increasing our awareness of the issue, and gradually lead to some way of providing more resources and help where it's most needed.

In the meantime, let's not forget that it's up to us all to make the difference.

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