'Off the Bench' gives an insight into life on the streets of one of Australia’s cities. We follow the experience of Julia, a young doctor who has volunteered for many years on a hospitality van with Brisbane’s homeless.
For Julia the homeless have become her friends and the hospitality van is there to create a sense of community, acceptance and care. Julia’s story encourages us to get ‘off the bench’ and to see the homeless as people with a story whose presence to people like Julia gives us much as they receive.
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Off the Bench: Julia's Response Tips
As one responds to issues within our world it is important to know there are many ways to respond. Not everyone can nor should respond in radical ways. Most responses should either grow awareness of the situation, stand in solidarity with people, advocate for them or the issue or take some form of action. One of the key responses should always be to form some sort of personal relationship with the person or issue; taking it beyond labels to the people who are daily effected by it.
Here are some tips for responding to issues that concern you.Short term: Rent out the Australian movie "Tom White", a fictional account of homelessness. Discuss the themes and messages of the film with a friend.
Medium term: Look for Mission Australia's annual 'Winter Sleep Out' and invite staff from your company or family and friends to participate.
Longer term: Join the volunteer team for a drop in centre or street van outreach and through your presence and listening build a respectful relationship with the people you meet; reflect on their story.Short term: Make a small card "Everyone has a story" and put it in a prominent place in your life; on your office desk or on your dashboard.
Medium term: Each year before budget time write to your State and Federal Member of Parliament and request more funding for mental illness programs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and support services – especially for women and children.
Longer term: Get car bumper sticker made with a simple message that keeps the issue of homelessness in the public arena; sell the stickers to family and friends. "Homelessness; no simple issue but someone’s story!"Short term: Next time you see an obviously homeless person stop and chat for a minute. Don’t give them money – just a smile and a chat.
Medium term: If you see an obviously homeless person in the same place regularly – after you have said "Hello" several times and stopped for a short chat introduce yourself – sharing your first name. If they respond with their first name – commit it to memory and each time you pass by offer a cheery, "Good morning Colin!"
Longer term: Look for the social justice week in your area or refugee week or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander week etc and regularly attend film festivals or public talks; your presence lets others know they do not walk alone.Short term: Buy a copy of 'The Big Issue' and chat to the seller for half a minute – thank them for providing such a valuable service. See if you can build up a regular purchase with the same person so they recognise your face and value your interaction.
Medium term: Invite your family or friends to limit the price they pay for a Christmas gift and collectively give the remainder that you would have spent to a community that works with the homeless. When you are buying your Christmas gifts or a birthday gift for the family – buy a couple of extra pairs of thick socks and go along with your children or friends and drop them into a St. Vincent de Paul or Salvation Army clothing shop or drop them off at a street van around Christmas.
Longer term: Volunteer at a local drop in centre with a friend (most cities have some form of outreach to the homeless sponsored by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Salvation Army, the Smith Family and others).