Boroondara locals look after their missing middle

PHOTO: Instagram/ @bco.kew

EVEN though Homelessness Week is officially over, Boroondara Community Outreach Centre (BCO) provides ongoing support for the vulnerable, any time of the week.

The Outreach program, established in 1993 is a place of relief where hospitality and essential services can be accessed by the community’s vulnerable.

Outreach Centre’s Coordinator, Reverand Natalie Dixon-Monu said the service is a grassroots organisation that supports the “missing middle.”

“There was a need for people to have an individual focus, and the incredible need for people to have a place to connect and feel they belong,” she said.

COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria have forced communal spaces to become inaccessible, so places to connect and belong are few and far between.

David, a 71-year-old homeless man, normally depends on public libraries and cafes for free shelter during the day.

Victoria’s lockdown announcement on August 4, 2021, has blocked David from finding safety and shelter.

“Essentially everything is closed, and because of that, I have difficulty finding places to go,” David said.

Boroondara Community Outreach has adapted to the needs of people like David, offering up public spaces which “anyone living on the streets can come to,” said Rev. Dixon-Monu.

On Mondays to Fridays between 11 am and 3 pm, vulnerable community members can access emergency relief and support at Uniting Church hall in Kew.

“It has been really helpful,” said David.

“I am able to stay during the day and access food and clothes… it makes me feel like I have a place to spend my days.”

Rev. Dixon-Monu reflects on the life-altering effects of access after an emotional experience with a homeless man.

“We had a man rock up who needed to charge his phone that has been dead for days,” she said.

“Once the mobile was on, he found out his father has died… he came to me and completely broke down.”

Aljazeera recently released an article stating more than 116,000 people are homeless at any given night in Australia.

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry into homeless, in 2018 and 2019 found that one in every 57 Victorian’s has been accessing government-funded homelessness services.

The numbers are presumed to have risen since then.

The Victorian government this year adopted housing programs to protect homeless people from the pandemic, moving 7,000 rough sleepers into motels.

The Victorian Government recently announced an extension of the program until April 2022.

Whilst government housing has been one avenue of support for the homeless and vulnerable, outreach centres like BCO have been essential for their myriad of services.

Elizabeth, a volunteer who has been working at BCO “since the beginning” said humanity is part of the service.

“Everyone is a human being… I acknowledge people, whatever state they are in,” she said.

In the twelve months up to June 4, 2021, BCO provided 33,000 meals for families and individuals.

“We figured that one of the best ways we could care for people in need, was to cook them really nutritious meals,” Rev. Dixon-Monu said.

Jane Stewart has been volunteering at BCO since May 2020 and makes approximately 150 meals per week for those in need.

Food, for Jane, is not only a source of nutrients but an emotional experience, especially when flavour and smell unlock a memory.

“I remember one of the men from Ivy Grange boarding house, to who I have been supplying home-cooked meals, said my food reminded me of his mother,” she said.

“The way food can bring instant joy to someone makes me feel like I am really making a difference.”

BCO is a locally run organisation that depends on and welcomes donations to continue serving people in need.

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Tia Haralabakos

Tia Haralabakos is a Media & Communications student at Monash University specialising in Journalism and human rights. She is interested in the multi-faceted landscape of digital media, particularly addressing challenges to online reporting like diversity and content moderation. Tia’s journalistic interests include human rights and social affairs.

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