It would be easy for Sydney Homeless Connect co-founders Andrew Everingham and Peter Durie to be in a triumphant mood as they mark the charity’s tenth anniversary.
They do not doubt that the commitment, generosity, trust and a job well done are worthy of celebration. But it’s a double-edged sword.
They despair that homelessness is more significant in 2019 than it was in 2009 when Andrew came up with what Peter describes as his ambitious idea to launch the movement.
“I do look back on 10 years with a great amount of fondness,” says Andrew. “I know we’ve done a lot of good and I know that we’ve helped a lot of people to get on the path out of homelessness. Unfortunately, we will need to continue doing it in the future.”
Andrew was introduced to the Homeless Connect concept during a business trip to San Francisco. He knew he wanted to create something similar in Sydney. But it took about six months for the seed to grow into his big idea.
No stopping him
Once he decided he was going to do it, there was no stopping him.
Peter had put his hand up. The Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, Clover Moore, was on board, and knowledgeable people, sponsors, friends and colleagues were enthusiastic.
The big question was when. “I remember telling people that we were going to run in the winter,” says Andrew. “They said that was great timing as it would give a good 18 months to get things done.”
There was disbelief all-round when he explained the launch would be winter that year, which was six months away.
“Why would we wait 18 months if we could get it done in six?”
Once the date was set, it took hold, though. Everyone rallied and made it happen.
The first event was as successful as they could have hoped and provided a solid foundation for future growth.
“Our model hasn’t changed in the 10 years,” says Andrew. “We are still 100 per cent not for profit and 100 per cent volunteer driven.
The big difference between then and now is size, with the core team remaining stable over the years. “We come from all walks of life. We have people from high corporate positions through to mums who just want to get in there and help. Everyone puts in as much as everyone else,” says Andrew.
“From the start, we certainly had great advisers who helped us to make sure we were making sound decisions in the best interests of the guests that were coming along on the day. We also had a lot of buy-in from the service providers and sponsors. There was a great deal of support,” says Andrew.
Despite the success, the team still look for ways to improve the guest experience. One example is the free Transport NSW travel cards. Another is a refinement to the meet and greet process for each guest.
Peter is still enthralled by what the team have achieved. “At Homeless Connect, a government department can fast-track a guest’s assistance and deliver in one day what would typically take six months.
A lot of fun
“It’s something big. It makes a difference. It’s a lot of stress to make it happen but also a lot of fun. You get to the end of the day, and it’s just a buzz. We have great outcomes.
“We have an outstanding brand after 10 years. We pay a lot of attention to that and keep on doing the right thing.”
Andrew describes his personal reward as bottomless.
“I’ve met so many of the most fantastic people. I have learnt an enormous amount about the way people treat each other. I have learnt an enormous amount about some of the inequality that we are faced with.
“I’ve also learnt about the propensity for people to give. People really want to do something to help, so they’re willing to come along and spend the whole day just giving free hugs to people who don’t get a hug very often,” says Andrew.
“They are willing to come and serve food for people. They’re willing to connect, donate products or give employees time off to volunteer, and that is something that needs to be celebrated.”
The tagline that Peter came up with sums it up, he says: “Sometimes it’s good just to do something good.”