Dear Inner Circle,

It has been 7 weeks since Wayside Chapel made some significant shifts in light of the rapidly evolving international health crisis. As we scoured reports flooding in from all over the world we soon had our worst fears confirmed, if the virus gets into the group of people who are classified as ‘rough sleepers’ then it will spread rapidly and with devastating effect. As a team we unanimously agreed within the first week of the restrictions being announced by the government, to radically alter how we operate in order to keep our people alive.

It takes courage to act quickly within such a rapidly changing, and strange new world. However I’m grateful to say that it is the strength and agility of each of our teams to embrace and adapt to these changes, that has made our organisation shine through crisis.

When Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist in history, was once asked by an eager student “What is the earliest sign of civilisation?” she responded “A healed femur”. Beyond hunting, gathering and a general attitude of survival of the fittest, our humanity emerged when we cared for the most vulnerable ones among us. Hats off to all of our wonderful frontline health and medical workers in Australia and around the world who are putting humanity first.

I am so proud to report that as of writing this note, so far there have been no confirmed cases of the virus amongst our homeless population and the people that visit us. We quickly realised that in order to protect our community, we needed to send people home if they had the ability to isolate. For those who were sleeping rough on the streets, our teams have worked tirelessly to get them into temporary accommodation in hotels. When you consider we operate in our nation’s geographical hot spot, this result is all the more phenomenal. I am proud of our teams who are on the streets and in mobile care units in vans, taking our love to the streets and homes, while at the same time putting all the necessary precautions in place to keep themselves and others safe. I’m equally grateful to our IT Team who have been working tirelessly to ensure that our support staff can work from their homes. No matter the view, all of our staff have been working at the coalface of compassion to help the people in our community who need it most. Even as our leaders begin to ease some of the restrictions, we cannot afford to be complacent. We will continue to provide the love and support to people who are most vulnerable and isolated, for whom well-being still balances precariously on the pivot point between life and death.

Throughout this time, we will continue to see a change in the type of needs sought. In the first few weeks we saw high demand for basic necessities and care packs, and while the needs for these remain high as the economic toll starts to widen, we are also seeing an increased need for connection and mental health support as the toll of loneliness and isolation begins to take hold. I was reminded of this when I spoke with a man that Wayside has walked with for over 30 years. His family abandoned him when he was a child and he drifted onto the streets. Even though he is well into his 60s and now housed, the damage done in those early years still affects his life to this day. Recent self-isolation at home away from his beloved Wayside community, proved too difficult and his challenges with mental illness have forced him into hospital. Like family, our people visit him and check in with him daily by phone, providing all the love, support and connection he needs to get through.

This is humanity shining at it’s brightest. It honours our earliest signs of civilisation as they reach out to him and teach us all how to be more human than we were yesterday.

Thank you for helping us be there, our Inner Circle.

Jon

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