Winter and a pandemic have increased the gap between security and survival for people experiencing homelessness and without access to today’s necessities of smartphones and cars.

Our HopeStreet teams have continued to work through the rolling lockdowns to offer people experiencing disadvantage as much comfort and security as possible. Items include hot nutritious meals and fruit as a takeaway service, jackets, blankets, and in part, a small sense of safety through access to vaccines.

Our HopeStreet Port Kembla team recently partnered with NSW Illawarra Shoalhaven Health District to deliver access to the Pfizer vaccine to the community’s most vulnerable.

“The clinic felt different, like we were doing something against COVID, rather than COVID controlling us. We were able to take action in our community in a really positive way,” said Dianne Frohmuller, Manager of BaptistCare HopeStreet Port Kembla.

“It’s a terrible situation out there when you haven’t got a car or a smartphone. Even with all the COVID testing locations - all that I know of - you have to drive through. You have to register through a smartphone for test results.”

“Those of us who do have cars have the luxury of waiting in comfort on a cold, rainy winter’s day. However, if you’re experiencing homelessness or living with disadvantage, or even elderly, you just can’t do it. The percentage of people who come to HopeStreet who have a mobile phone with credit on it - if it was 5% it would be an over-exaggeration,” said Dianne.

“A lot of people experiencing homelessness use the centre’s phone number as they simply do not have a phone. Yet, the Government is currently asking everyone to do almost everything via their smartphones. This has excluded a whole demographic in terms of the safety procedures put in play to protect us all.”

“For people to be able to get vaccinated, to feel a little bit safe, was massive to them. They didn’t feel left behind.”

In early August, NSW Illawarra Shoalhaven Health District provided three nurses and administration staff to the centre. “We were allocated 30 vaccinations, and 30 is what we used. There were none left over, and sadly we had to turn people away,” said Dianne.

“Many clients had mentioned they wanted to get vaccinated but didn’t know where they were going to get it. There are vaccination hubs elsewhere, but you need an Opal Card or money to get there. And that’s a challenge for them.”

People eagerly arrived an hour and a half before the scheduled vaccination times, waiting patiently outside in the cold, including a waitlist in the case some didn’t show.

“Clients went in one door, got vaccinated, were monitored and then left via another exit. They’ll be back to do the same in three weeks for their second dose. People were grateful and relieved.”

With local sewerage results recording traces of the COVID virus, there’s fear in the Illawarra community. “It feels like the storm is coming and then it gets diverted,” said Dianne.

Despite this around 40 people arrive every day for meals. “You can’t face life or this pandemic without being nourished.”

“We know how restrictive it can be for people who are locked in their homes. Yet we also recognise that home is our place of safety, warmth, and hopefully a safe haven from this virus. Everyone is experiencing challenges right now, each of us. On the frontline, we see this highlighted even more for those without safe and secure housing, or without a home at all,” said Dianne.

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