A cold winter for Sunbury’s homeless

Sunbury Winter Shelter need more overnight volunteers. Reverend Stan Clarke; Narelle Riley; Jane Voon; Geoff Woods and chair person Dianne Moon. (Damjan Janevski) 277940_01

Elsie Lange

Dwindling overnight volunteer numbers has meant Sunbury’s winter homelessness service can only provide a roof to people sleeping rough for just one night a week this year.

During Sunbury Winter Shelter’s first iteration in 2019, it sought to provide 24/7 service, with five local churches, as well as community members, banding together to give the homeless a place to rest.

It was successful, and after lockdowns, they were excited to deliver it again – running from June 1 to August 31 for 91 days – but it wasn’t so simple.

Jane Voon, an organising volunteer with the shelter, said while they had plenty of volunteers for the various shifts between 5pm to 11pm, there simply weren’t enough people to keep the doors open all night.

“All voluntary organisations have had the same problem of a drop in volunteer numbers and it’s a combination of things… I think it’s because the volunteers are retired people and they are conscious of their health issues,” Ms Voon said.

That means the 18 people the service is in contact with are potentially without a roof for six nights a week, in what has been a particularly harsh winter season.

“Instead of accommodation seven nights a week we offer a meal, fellowship around a fire pit, [and] great conversation we have,” Ms Voon said.

Ms Voon said sleepover homelessness services in the town were few and far between – the single night available at the central St Andrews Uniting Church was all that was on offer. She said what was needed was investment in social housing in Sunbury.

“Every night when they leave they get a breakfast pack, instead of a bed – it’s very sad,” she said.

The youngest Hume councillor and Sunbury SES volunteer, Jarrod Bell, called on locals to put their hands up to help with the rest of the season.

“Sunbury has an inspirational tradition of volunteerism from our sporting clubs, emergency services and community events – it is people giving their time so freely that makes Sunbury the amazing place it is,” Cr Bell said.

“Sunbury Winter Shelter is a special way to lend a hand, learn new skills, meet new people and possibly even change a life.

“You don’t need to give anything, but please consider giving something.”