Meet Zoe. She’s helping people experiencing homelessness in Sydney’s South

The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) has released a series of videos for Homelessness Week 2021. The first of the series features the Homelessness Outreach Support Team and Wesley Mission Case Manager, Zoe Martin.

We spoke with Zoe to find out a little more about her and the work her team are doing in Sydney’s South.

Tell us about your work.

I’m part of the Wesley Homeless Services team working in the Sutherland Shire and St George areas. These are suburban areas, but there are still many people experiencing homelessness. We see quite a few people sleeping in cars and people sleeping in tents in the Royal National Park. Sometimes we meet people staying in basic conditions like in a friend’s garage, people who are hidden from view.

We do our patrol every second Thursday, but we’re also responding to tips from Council and people who are concerned about someone’s living conditions.

In the video, we meet Michael, one of the clients you have been working with. How was Wesley Mission able to offer him support?

As Michael shares, he spent quite some time living in his ute. We went to visit him a few times and finally were able to connect with him to offer help with accommodation. Over time we built a good rapport and assisted him with the necessary paperwork to be able to apply for housing.

Once he had an offer for housing, we were able to assist with brokerage to purchase a bed, a fridge and other home essentials. It was wonderful to see him get set up in his own place and feel secure again. And we continue to support him to make sure he’s doing well.

How else do you support people experiencing homelessness?

We start with seeing if they want accommodation and offer support for a range of needs. For example, if people are experiencing mental illness, we have a partnership with St Vincent’s Hospital and can refer them for psychological support.

Other ways that we assist include linking people up with health services through GPs and working with Centrelink to make sure people have the identity documents they need to be able to do the things many people take for granted, like getting electricity connected to our homes.

What is the best part of your job?

I’ve been working for Wesley Mission for a year and a half now. Before that, I was working for five years in an inner-city drop-in centre.

The best part of my job is when a person we’ve been helping gets an offer for accommodation. They might have been staying in transitional housing, and we will help to take them to see the property, and they can choose if they want to accept the offer.

When they accept it is a great feeling, then we can help to get them set up in their new space. If they have been sleeping rough, sometimes it takes time to get used to living indoors again. But we are there to support them and to help successfully maintain their tenancy, and we’re with them from start to finish.

We’re currently marking Homelessness Week for 2021. What should people know about homelessness?

The most important thing for people to realise is that homelessness can happen to anyone. There are so many reasons why people experience homelessness. There is not one stereotype, and we work with all people.

Some people have worked all their lives and have found themselves homeless through illness and job loss. Being out of work is a real problem at the moment with COVID-19 and lockdowns. People can feel shame about their circumstances, but I would like to encourage people to reach out for help. You won’t find judgement at Wesley Mission, and we’re ready to help.

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