Legalwise News Editor Caroline Tang interviewed Sydney Homeless Connect co-founder and chief executive Andrew Everingham in the lead-up to the charity’s ninth annual event to support the homeless in Sydney Town Hall on July 3. Once a year, up to 3500 people help and receive help in Town Hall: About 400 volunteers, 100 service providers and 3000 people experiencing homelessness. Those in need might enjoy a hot meal, haircut or connection to essential services.
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Sydney Homeless Connect is not simply another charity asking for your cash: The not-for-profit only raises money when needed and for specific expenses. Co-founder Andrew Everingham (pictured, right), a marketing executive in his “day job”, said SHC collaborated with organisations to involve them in the giving process to help people dealing with or at risk of homelessness.
“One of the things about Sydney Homeless Connect, is that we don’t normally need to chase down money; it’s not just about giving a bunch of cash,” he said.
“We are usually more interested in the stuff that we need, so when we have situations where people do have cash to donate, we involve them more holistically and ask them to purchase something we might require.”
Mr Everingham said cash was not always the most valuable asset to donate. Businesses and organisations, for example, have donated everything from hairdressing and IT services to reusable water bottles and fresh produce.
“Rather than money, what we are interested in is people’s skills and sometimes their products – organisations make products that may be valuable for the homeless – and really, people’s energy; those are the things we really tap into: Expertise, products and energy,” he said.
“Some organisations offer their people and send a team to volunteer on the day in Town Hall. We also have organisations which donate products, for example, a sporting company donated reusable water bottles, and over the years organisations such as the Farmers’ Federation have donated large quantities of produce to be cooked up on the day for meals. Expertise-wise, there are people who help us design our computer system or our marketing programs.”
This year, however, SHC aims to raise $8400 for insurance and Town Hall event day expenses, such as transport of goods and birth certificate costs. Mr Everingham said donors would know exactly where their money was going.
“For some items, such as insurance, this is not something that can be donated. Any money that is collected will go directly to that hard cost. We are not an organisation that keeps money in the bank for the sake of it,” he said.
This year’s Town Hall day is on Tuesday, July 3, from 10am to 3pm. SHC has an open door policy and no one is judged upon entry, which is free.
Mr Everingham started the event nine years ago in Sydney after he found inspiration during a trip to the United States. He runs SHC with co-founder Peter Durie (pictured, left) and a dedicated army of volunteers. Importantly, no one is paid at SHC.
Mr Everingham said Town Hall was a special place which everybody in society deserved to enjoy. “What is important about Sydney Town Hall is that it sends a very clear message: We are opening one of Australia’s most beautiful venues to people in need,” he said.
“So, it sends a clear message to people that they actually count. It’s a beautiful place to go and relax, and it belongs to everybody and should be used for these purposes.
Mr Everingham said the Town Hall day was “not an expo for a day of PR”. “It’s about getting people to actually take another step; so, we challenge all service providers to come on the day and offer that, to get something happening on the day and remove any barriers,” he said.
“Secondly, our intention is to raise awareness of homelessness in Sydney, to acknowledge that the problem exists and to try and get people to understand it better.
“Third, we aim to invite people into the beautiful environment of Town Hall to receive a bit of love, respect, pampering and to get looked after. This is a challenge that we set every year, to make the day the nicest experience we possibly can for everyone who comes along.”
Mr Everingham said the event was a one-stop-shop for people to receive help. “SHC has been successful because it’s very pragmatic and very direct; everything we do is about the bottom-line and delivering results on the day,” he said.
“People like it because they know that nobody takes anything away from it, other than feeling good about having done something to help. It’s a simple idea, super simple; all we are doing is connecting people to services that will help them and removing as much red tape as we possibly can. And, hopefully, we are enabling people to be able to get what they need without any barriers.”
In addition to the Town Hall day, SHC continues to put people in touch with other service providers when approached for help. But, the charity is not without its critics. Some ask if SHC really helps solve homelessness long-term.
“I’m the organiser, so most people tend to tell you happy things. The feedback we do receive, half love what we do and want to help and see it done, but the other half of feedback we get is people saying, ‘Good on you for doing this event, but at the end of the day, you send these people back out on the street, so have you actually done any good?’” Mr Everingham said.
“Those people are 100 per cent right; we are not in the job of solving homelessness – we are trying to help people who are homeless to get a better position. My stock standard response is that while there is a need to apply a Band-Aid to this problem, I would much rather apply one than not.
“So, I can absolutely see that what I’m doing is not going to solve homelessness in Sydney, but helping people out is not doing any harm, so we would much rather help than not.”