Each year when we plan the event, our core values guide the decision-making at Sydney Homeless Connect and they’re reflected at the event and the activities that we run on the day. Since our first event in June 2009, our primary focus remains the same- Help anyone who is experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness by connecting him or her with the services they most urgently need. That is never going to change – it’s the reason we’re here.
One thing that has changed during the past few years is the experience at our free clothing store. Every year we have diligently collected clothes from wonderful people in our community. Donations have come from individuals, church groups, businesses and even clothing retailers – all who want to help in this very practical and pragmatic way. We really appreciate all the support we have been given.
Help anyone who is experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness by connecting him or her with the services they most urgently need.
During the past few years we have seen a shift in behaviour that has led us to make the tough decision to put a pause on offering free clothing at the event this year. Unfortunately we have been targeted by a number of organised groups who arrive on the day and take what they don’t need. They are focussed, calculated, extremely pushy and rude – and they are very good at it! Some have even arrived in busses and armed with multiple bags to gather more than they individually need and with little scrutiny as what they take. It is obvious that they are there to get as much as they can and for what reason we do not know. We don’t judge people. We don’t know that these groups collect all these items to take back to their families and communities, but there is no evidence that this is what they are doing either. We have tried to have discussions with them, but they are evasive and ignore us. Short of manhandling them and taking back the goods, which we obviously cannot do, we found ourselves caught in a tricky situation.
Sadly, their actions create a feeling of angst and anger, especially in those people who really need the help and could certainly do with that extra pair of jeans or a warm jumper. Interestingly, the people who need it most are the ones who take the least. They have remained grateful for the generosity of those who care enough to donate. As you can imagine this is heartbreaking for the organisers and volunteers who slug their guts out for months to collect, sort and prepare all these items.
You may be wondering, “Why not just stop them coming?” One of our other core values is an open-door policy. We are there for anyone who needs help and we only refuse entry to anyone who is at risk to themselves or others. So it becomes virtually impossible to stop these people entering and to police their actions.
Due to this circumstance we will not offer a free clothes store this year. Instead we are working on a voucher system where guests will be able to exchange the voucher for a new outfit from a charity store in a number of locations throughout Sydney. It is not ideal, but given the situation we believe it will give some clothes to those who need it most. For the time being we ask you to consider St Vincent de Paul Society as an option. We are working on the voucher exchange solution and will post about that as soon as we can.
Without this disruption and distraction of the clothing store, we can focus on all the other areas of the day.