Imagine for a moment being without a place to call home. No bedroom with a clean, comfortable place to sleep. No kitchen with a source of running water and electricity. No bathroom or laundry with the basic amenities required to cleanse and go to the toilet. No sense of security afforded by a fixed place to call home with walls, windows and doors…
It’s not a pleasant scenario to ponder, but it’s a daily reality for around 100,000 Australians, and the reasons for it are complex and varied. We all like to think it would never happen to us, or that we would be able to take control and somehow single-handedly get ourselves out of such a dire situation should it come to it, but when you talk to some of the 100,000 people who are currently homeless, you are hit with a startling reality-check that instantly humbles you.
I recently went out to Pelican Park in Clontarf to see how one of Brisbane Airport’s Community Giving Fund recipients operate and to understand what the cash grant meant to them. Footprints is a not-for-profit organisation that offers a number of support services to a range of vulnerable community groups including the homeless. One of the incredible services they offer is ‘Stand Up, Step Out’ (SUSO).
It's time to stand up and step out
SUSO runs out of a repurposed council bus, providing the homeless and disadvantaged population of Brisbane somewhere to go where they can have a shower, wash and dry their clothes, have access to Wi-Fi and mobile charging, access to skilled outreach staff that can provide support and referrals, and most importantly, someone to talk to and to listen in a safe environment. The bus has been on the road operating since December 2017, but as Meagan Spicer who coordinates SUSO will tell you, it was a slow start for the service.
“It didn’t get a lot of traction in the beginning as the bus was parked in the wrong locations, but since the last half of 2018, the service has really taken off. We have sites that we regularly visit in Wynnum, Capalaba and Clontarf, and we’ve really hit our mark. Since December 1st last year, we’ve had 178 people through SUSO.”
Meagan’s incredibly calm and patient nature is in stark contrast to her demeanour. She has one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen, and as I listen to her speak about the service and what it means for so many people who use it regularly, her eyes and mannerisms tell of the genuine passion and drive she possesses to change lives and make a meaningful difference.
“I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about it. More than just the amenities, it’s the people – the opportunity to sit down with somebody who can listen to what’s going on for you and take an interest and really care has probably been the biggest impact. The laundry and the showers are an add-on, I think. We hear that regularly. It can help people to shift out of some really deep and dark places.
“Honestly, I consider this to be the best job - one in Footprints, but I’m pretty blessed to be able to call this (SUSO) my job. I drive a bus for a living, I am a social worker so I do have skills to be able to give back. But I literally turn up somewhere as beautiful as this, park a chair under a tree, and chat to people and just give that little bit of hope, and that means the world to me. It’s very rewarding.”
The importance of this service is unquestionable. It was resoundingly evident in every conversation I had that morning (I spoke to six SUSO clients who are currently homeless). If you were to try explain the situation of homelessness, the moment it happened and how it felt as told by these clients, the picture painted for me was like this:
It’s a trauma. A pain so big it bursts your sphere in an instant. You don’t see it coming, and it’s a monumental shift that always happens to ‘someone else’. Except when it doesn’t. Because there’s every chance that ‘someone’ could be you.
Homelessness is not the sum of these people, nor should it ever be considered that way. It’s but a small fraction of a much larger story – an incredibly diverse and rich story marked by highs, lows and all the moments in between. Wendy ‘The Sheriff’ has been homeless for seven years and is forever thankful for services like SUSO, as it is a reminder of humanity and respect that she sometimes doesn’t see.
“Every day is a different day. Every day I wake up and say, ‘I’m alive so it’s a good day’. You have to think positive. You can’t be a negative person. But you’re in an open car park and you do get a lot of judgemental people. We’re not all alcoholics or junkies. I’m a grandmother, I’m just a normal person down on my luck. We are human beings.
“I used to be like that. When I ran my own company for ten years, I used to look down on homeless people. I was that person, so I know where they are coming from. At the end of the day, I want people to know we are not bad people, we are just human beings.”
In September 2018, Footprints received a cash grant through the Brisbane Airport Community Giving Fund to purchase fuel and gas supplies to keep SUSO on the road. As the program is not funded, SUSO relies on the support of volunteers, grants and donations, and it is a program that is doing incredible work helping those who need it most. We are proud to support organisations like Footprints, helping them to do their invaluable work in our community.