James Wilson* (name changed) came to Australia from England in the hope of finding work but instead, the now 57-year-old found himself living on the streets.
Leaving his father and sister behind to start work with a construction company in Perth, the firm collapsed soon after his arrival and left James unemployed. An eight month trip in a camper van across Australia found James in Brisbane, with no support network and few job opportunities.
“When I got to Brisbane I had to sell the van. I was living on the streets and sleeping in the Botanical Gardens,” says James. “There was just no work available.”
However, James’ story has a positive side as he says there is a huge amount of support in Brisbane for people who find themselves in difficulty. “There’s a lot of help for people who are willing to look for it,” he says. “There’s a broad range of services that go around looking specifically for people in trouble – nurses, centre link, mental health providers.”
“There’s no other city like it, in terms of help for the homeless. You’d certainly not get this in England,” James says. He goes on to mention the numerous different organisations and charities that try to help people out as best they can.
“There’s so many places to find support, like Wesley Mission, Four Walls, OzCare and a couple of vans that go around with food. We’ve just learned there’s a women’s crisis centre opening up, so there’s always something on the way.
“I found the Wednesday meals when the founder of the program, suggested I come down. I’ve been going for about 7 years now and since one of the primary volunteers has become unwell, I’ve sort of taken over.”
James now runs Community Meal every Wednesday, with the help of other volunteers, for the disadvantaged community to get a hot meal.
“We don’t really say it’s for the ‘homeless’,” says volunteer Rose Parker*. “It’s for anyone who is disadvantaged. There are a lot of people that pay their rent and then have nothing left for food.”
“We get around 55 to 100 people through every week,” says James. “It’s hard to gauge how many we’ll get. We generally cater for about 100.”
“I won’t cook sausages,” says James with a smile. “If you’ve seen how many people are living off sausages and it’s just not a nutritious diet at all. We try to give people meat and three veg and they also get a dessert and a hot drink.”
Community Meal also hosts a Christmas Lunch each year on Christmas day. “We usually get about 300 people through on Christmas,” says James.
“We have a really strong relationship with the community. Last year we got a new dishwasher and oven, donated by one of our volunteers,” says James. “We try to look after them as best we can, like they looked after me.”