Sydney’s homeless memorial service: a city remembers its lost
The blustery cold wind and the menacing clouds could not deter a significant number of people gathering to remember the loved ones and friends who had lost their lives while homeless in Sydney.
As a chill wind blew through the gritty streets of the inner-city, voices joined together to pray for those who society too easily forgets. Hymns strengthened hearts and stories were shared about lives cut short.
The annual homeless memorial service at Shannon’s Reserve drew together around 100 people from all walks of life – the homeless and those who care for them, service providers and school kids, politicians and parents. It is one of three services held at locations in inner-Sydney during Homelessness Week 2016.
Norm, who found shelter at Wesley Edward Eagar Lodge, has been living on the streets since he was 14. His mum was alcoholic and home life was chaotic. He had come to the memorial service to remember his friends and cherish their memories.
“I’ve lost two or three mates on the streets; it’s a common occurrence,” Norm said. “It’s life as we know it. I’m pretty much on my own now. I’ve never had my own place.
“I also came (to the service) to respect those who are living on the streets. Just in the past year I have noticed there’s a lot more people on the streets than there was. There’s a lack of housing and what there is, it’s not affordable.”
The numbers of those sleeping rough in Sydney is at an all -time high and emergency accommodation centres and affordable housing stocks are full.
Around one in four of the city’s homeless are under 18 and 15 per cent are aged between 19 and 24.
According to Wesley Mission’s CEO the Rev Keith Garner, homeless people should never be forgotten within the life of a city. Under God’s grace everyone counts and every life matters.
“We acknowledge the importance of grace: grace is unmerited, unearned. It is the love of God poured out for people,” Mr Garner told those at the service.
“We realise we live in very hurt and fractured community, suicide among young and homeless people is something we cannot pass by. There is a growing sense of indignity about forgetting people.
“As we remember those who have gone before us, they have not been forgotten by us. We are going to keep reminding our community that everybody matters, especially those who have little, particularly those who have little of this world’s opportunities.
“We remember today many who have died far too young, many who have died because they find it very difficult to find accommodation. We remember them because they matter.
“Everybody counts, everybody matters - there is no hierarchy of importance. There is no significance for some and insignificance for others. We may sometimes do that through our attitudes but in the bigger picture – and it is always the bigger picture – quite clearly God has no hierarchy of importance. And he rebukes us with all our misplaced priorities.
“Within a spit of here we have people who today are cutting deals for millions of dollars. But let me tell you that we could be doing nothing more important here.
“Nothing is more important in a city’s life than to remember those who have little and those who are without.”
Federal Member for Sydney and Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek, said the service was important to all people in the community.
“Anybody who has lived in the inner-city has known people who are homeless and then next week you just don’t see them anymore,” she said. “Everyone has a family, everybody’s got a past, everybody’s got a future and we should acknowledge that.
“We see people in their thirties who are sleeping rough and the toll it takes on them.
“We need to continue to invest in accommodation so that we have affordable rental accommodation, making sure that people have the social supports they need, and to ensure they can work if they possibly can because the attachment you get to community through work is really important.
“If they can’t work it is important that they have meaning in their lives – friendships, social contact with people. Loneliness is a killer. We can address loneliness by reaching out with the hand of friendship.”
The Homelessness Week memorial service is organised each year by Wesley Mission and other homeless service providers and inner-city churches.