By Wendy Williamson
The celebrated Father Bob McGuire was guest speaker at the launch of Homelessness Week at Lilydale on Monday 7 July.
The much-loved priest was as entertaining as ever, but the message he had was a sober one – that much more needs to be done to ensure no person is without a home.
He pointed out that there are many reasons which lead people to become homeless, and that while federal and state governments could be doing more, “the best natural resource is the community”.
“We can’t have community without the five ‘Cs’,” he added, naming these as care, concern, compassion, communication and above all, common sense.
He congratulated the Lilydale and wider Yarra Ranges community on taking steps to address homelessness.
Monday’s launch at the Lillydale Lake Community Room was organised by Holy Fools and Anchor, two of the agencies which support homeless and at-risk people in the Yarra Ranges.
Jay Church from Anchor said that her organisation found that early intervention and prevention were the most effective ways to deal with homelessness.
“Homelessness is all around us,” said Neal Taylor from Holy Fools.
“We are here today to put a visible face on it, and to recognise that these are human beings who are homeless.”
He said he would like to see a foundation made up of agencies working together, with the support of community funding, to create housing solutions.
The immediate need, he said, was for a drop-in centre or day refuge in the Lilydale area – somewhere where people would feel safe, where they could relax with couches and TV, free tea and coffee and computers to enable job searches.
The Yarra Ranges Homeless Winter Sleepout at Lilydale’s Melba Park aims to raise awareness of the need for such a centre. On Saturday 12 August from 6pm members of the public are invited to come along and get a brief taste of homelessness by sleeping out in the open.
Yarra Ranges Mayor Noel Cliff will be among hardy volunteers sleeping rough on Saturday.
His contribution pales in comparison to fellow councillor Tim Heenan, who has racked up more than 130 nights of sleeping in a cardboard box.
Cr Heenan began sleeping out during Homeless Week in 2008 to raise awareness of the problem of homelessness.
This is the tenth year in which he has withstood the winter freeze for nights on end to show his solidarity with those who are less fortunate.
He got out his cardboard box last Friday, and will sleep in it every night until Sunday.
“I estimate I have clocked up around 900 hours sleeping rough – and I am luckier than most, with a cardboard box and even a couple of blankets,” said the brave councillor.
This year he will have the luxury of a sleeping mat, thanks to the creativity and generosity of a local woman, Lisa, who made the mat from recycled plastic garbage bags.
Cr Heenan said he was passionate about increasing awareness of homelessness.
Homelessness, he said, came in many forms, with a disturbingly large number of people now sleeping in cars.
“We know there are lots of people sleeping in cars in the Yarra Ranges. This is a huge shire, covering two and a half thousand square kilometres, so it is easy for the homeless to be invisible, but they are there,” he said.
If you would like to show your solidarity with people who are homeless, why not join Cr Heenan and others at the Yarra Ranges Homeless Winter Sleepout at Melba Park this Saturday from 6pm.
The night time temperature might hover around zero degrees, but there will be a blazing bonfire, refreshments and a range of activities to warm body and soul. For more information, visit the Homeless in the Yarra Valley Facebook page.