This Friday, Hutt Street Centre is holding their popular Walk A Mile In My Boots fundraising event as part of National Homelessness Week. Last year, over 4,000 Adelaideans made it out on the streets for the walk, with organisers expecting an even larger turnout for this year’s event – their 10th anniversary.
With over 660 volunteers and a small but passionate staff base, Hutt Street Centre has stood proudly on the East End since 1954. Walk A Mile is one of their largest community events, raising much-needed funds as part of their winter appeal, and raising awareness for the homeless at this particularly chilly time.
In the leadup to the event, we spoke to development and partnerships manager Michael Francis about Adelaide’s incredible Hutt Street Centre, the Walk A Mile In My Boots campaign and how you can help.
How long have you worked with Hutt Street Centre?
I’ve been here for nearly 2.5 years but the first year I was volunteering. I worked in the corporate world for about 35 years and then decided to step back and do something, in my opinion, more worthwhile. I wanted to do something for those less advantaged. I researched a number of organisations… I wanted something local so I picked Hutt Street Centre. After volunteering for about a year, I was invited by the CEO to come into this role and I absolutely love it.
How different is your role at Hutt Street Centre to your previous corporate life?
It’s incredibly different – it’s far more rewarding, and it’s uplifting. I’m working with beautiful people with great values. The amazing volunteers I’m working with every day are giving their time for free. I get to make contact with everyone who donates, from $5 to $50,000. There are lots of people that can barely afford to donate, and many who are very wealthy but you just don’t hear about it. It’s incredible to meet so many giving, beautiful people.
How long has the organisation been around for?
We’ve been here for 64 years, in the same position [on Hutt Street]. There’s been a lot of changes, but we’re very much a part of the furniture here.
The history is interesting. We’re part of the Daughters of Charity which started in the 1630’s by the same people as St Vincent de Paul. It began in Paris with groups of ladies who would help the poor, needy and homeless. The charity came to Sydney in the 1920’s and they set up Hutt Street Centre in 1954.
It’s certainly grown since then, but homelessness has grown since then too.
What is the state of homelessness in Australia and South Australia now?
The last census showed that homelessness had grown nationally by 14%.
116,000 people nationally are homeless and 6,000 in South Australia, which is one person in every 250. That number shocks a lot of people. We’re seeing a lot more women come in now, and a lot of them are coming in with young families, too. Another fast-growing area is the elderly, with the lack of affordability of living for the elderly.
Not only has homelessness increased, but the complexity has increased, and the issues that come along with that.
What is the main role of Hutt Street Centre?
Every single service that we use in our lives, we offer to homeless people, starting with the basics of food. We serve up nearly 50,000 meals a year, which is nearly 1,000 meals a week. We do that with only one paid employee.
We provide 12,500 showers and 7,500 loads of washing. People can come in and have a shower, get their clothes washed and dried and go off for a job interview and no one would know they were homeless.
We also have nurses on site, and we provide financial counselling, religious services, psychological support, eyesight and hearing testing, massage and occupational therapy.
The main thing for us is the outcomes – to transform people’s lives. Last year, we took 570 people out of homelessness and into safe housing. We were also able to get more than 150 people into employment as well – long term welfare recipients who are now proudly standing on their own two feet. We also helped more than 50 people get back into further education.
Do you have a memorable moment that sticks out for you since working for Hutt Street Centre?
There are so many stories, but the main one is the story of a lady I’ll call Jane. I met her shivering and shaking at the back of Hutt Street Centre in our open area at the back. She told me she was nervous because she was seeing her daughter for the first time in seven years. The authorities took her away from her. She told me that was the right decision because she was a bad mother. She listed a number of drugs she was on back then and how she’d weaned her way off them, find her way to Hutt Street Centre, and prove to herself and the authorities that she could be a good mother again.
Six months later she came back and told me she got to see her daughter for an hour a day, and that Hutt Street had found her part-time work.
Three months later, she sent me a letter letting me know she was living with her daughter and had a good partner.
The last time I saw her, she had her hair done by our TAFE SA students who come and help out, and beautiful new teeth from a dentist who offered up free dentures.
She was down and out, even suicidal when I first met her, and then her life really turned around.
How important are events like the Walk a Mile In My Boots?
The whole idea is that people get out and walk on a very cold winter morning and feel what it’s like to be homeless, just for a moment. A lot of our clients get up cold and wet and walk a mile to get a nice cooked breakfast from us. We encourage people to understand that for just a short moment…it’s about empathy and understanding.
It’s also for fundraising for us – we obviously need to raise funds which are very important for the service we provide.
What would you encourage the people of Adelaide or South Australia to do this Friday, if they can’t walk in the event?
We’re always looking for volunteers to come and cook or help in the day centre. You can also donate online or become an angel for a day. My first experience was signing up for their Angel for a Day initiative. I paid $350 and brought my two teenage sons in to see what it’s all about. You serve up to 250 people that day with the money you donate. That’s what got me hooked – I met these people, saw how polite and gracious they are – nothing to be scared of. They’re just people that need help.
If you’d like to participate in Walk A Mile this Friday register on the website, or simply turn up on Friday morning and register at the registration booth. You can also donate online if you can’t make it to the walk.
Have you walked a mile before, or worked with Hutt Street? Tell us about your experience…