It’s seven o’clock on a chilly morning as I write this blog. The homeless are already queuing outside my Exodus Foundation, seeking refuge after another night on the streets. As winter sets in their plight will become even more desperate, but thanks to your support they don’t need to be cold and alone.
Together we’re making their future better. We’ve got hot meals, healthcare and support services. In fact my amazing staff and volunteers often perform miracles – you can see it in the smiles of the homeless we feed, clothe and support.
Glancing out the window this morning I can see steam rising from our new shower block. We built it especially for our homeless guests and today about 20 people are waiting to use it. One of them stopped me and said “I’ve been sleeping in an old car for weeks and if I didn’t have you to turn to for showers and food and stuff like that, I don’t know how I’d survive”. I gave him a fresh towel and some toiletries. I’m sure his hot shower was a welcome relief after the cold night.
About this time our chefs and volunteers also begin arriving to prepare breakfast in the famous Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant. It isn’t long before I smell the aroma of coffee and hear the clanging of pots and pans. Today they’re cooking porridge for brekky – perfect for this cold morning!
About 200 needy people join us for breakfast every day. Jenny is one of an increasing number of female guests. She escaped an abusive relationship and now lives in a boarding house. Yesterday she told me that she walks for an hour to get here. “I’m very grateful”, she said. “If it wasn’t for you I would go hungry.” We are determined to give her more than just meals though, we want to find her a real place to live. A home – a fresh start.
Indeed, our free meals are often just the beginning. We know that the homeless need a range of caring support services to lift them out of poverty. Right now the need is greater than ever. Homelessness has risen by a staggering 37% in NSW over the last five years. At my Exodus Foundation we’ve seen this reflected in demand for our services.
Recently we opened a new health and wellbeing centre to care for the influx of new homeless people. We have a community nurse and a doctor who look after the general health of our homeless guests – two-thirds of whom suffer at least one chronic health condition. We also have a dentist to fix their rotting teeth, as well as counsellors and social workers to help map out a better future for each. I’m so proud of the work my team does, and I’m so grateful that your support makes it happen.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference, like the free haircuts we offer the homeless. Once a month a chiropractor also visits to fix their bad backs – imagine how sore they get sleeping on the ground. We’ve got a laundry service provided by a partner organisation every week and we even have a podiatrist come to tend to their blistered, swollen feet. It’s all about returning dignity to their broken lives.
At lunch time hundreds of needy people come to our Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant. I like to sit and talk with them as often as I can. The other day I met another young lady who had escaped domestic violence – in fact she’d fled just days earlier. Since then she’d been sleeping rough. “Bill, this is the first proper meal I’ve had in days”, she told me. But her story didn’t stop there. “I got my kids out of the house two weeks ago”, she continued. “I really miss them but I can’t get them back until I find somewhere safe to live”. Thankfully our social workers were able to help and she is now reunited with her children. When she saw them the smile on her face made Heaven sing!
In some ways our Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant is like a triage centre for broken lives. Our counsellors are always there, mingling with the guests and talking with them over their meals. We try very hard to create an atmosphere of loving kindness and it’s remarkable how even the most shy and broken people open up, allowing us to give them the help they need.
Tonight and every night, we will load up our food van with hot dinners and drive into the heart of Sydney to feed the homeless there. These people are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable I know. Last night a mother with a disabled son came to our van for a meal. The boy needed urgent dental treatment – he could hardly eat. We made the arrangements and today my team will bring him here so our dentist can fix his teeth.
Winter nights can be bitterly cold at the food van – especially when it rains, but still they come. Hundreds of hungry homeless people emerge from the shadows every night. I like to think our hot meals warm them up from the inside! Whenever I can I spend time with them, listening and sometimes as a shoulder to cry on. We also give them flu vaccinations so none die of pneumonia.
All of these things happen because of people like you. Without your support the hungry wouldn’t eat, a mother mightn’t be reunited with her children and the homeless would be cold and alone.
I’m sure you’ve felt the chill of winter already. It would be almost unbearable for so many of our needy guests without your kind heartedness. Together you and I can spare them the worst of winter. I honour the trust you show in me and that’s why I’m asking you to give once more. Please donate today so we can feed, clothe and care for the homeless this winter.
Rev. Bill Crews
P.S. Your donation to my Exodus Foundation this winter will enable me to feed, clothe and care for the needy. And don’t forget it can be tax deductible too.