From Homelessness to Hope: Fletcher Street Cottage's Transformative Services and Empowering Community
Leader and changemaker Mathew Broster is a current service user at Fletcher Street Cottage, the founder and team leader of Off The Street On Our Feet running team, and an inspiration to us all.
How has Fletcher Street Cottage's provision of basic needs such as breakfast, showers and laundry facilities impacted your life and the lives of other service users?
Whether it's been a rough night on the street, or a cold night of survival, before many of us may eventually sleep or upon awakening, just knowing that our safe space will be there in the morning gives us great warmth. Even if I've slept in a warm bed, worry, anxiety, fear and social phobias of judgement, rejection and ridicule are all real, so having a safe space for all of us is integral to our well-being.
For the majority that are on the streets, just the chance of having some fresh clothes, a clean body and a hot feed is enough to raise many smiles and please many hearts; it's the perfect start to the day
The hope, the comfort and the warmth that comes from us knowing that our cottage will be opening at 7am the next morning gives us so much more than many may believe. Many of us need that security, that stability and that care that is found at our cottage.
I know personally how much these small basic needs that are met from our cottage at 7am means to so many of us. The life-giving impact goes way beyond an early morning feed. It's the fellowship, the security, and the safety. For me, I often feel separate from mainstream society and in my experience at the cottage, we have each other; staff most certainly included.
One day, what was once our main morning home away from home; will be known as a lighthouse, a bridge and a ray of life-changing companionship that peers through the open door to us all.
Words can't express how much our cottage means to us.
Can you describe the importance of the information, referral, advocacy and support services provided by Community Support Workers at Fletcher Street Cottage? How have these services helped you and other individuals experiencing homelessness?
On behalf of both myself and also other service users I've become friends with, I feel that the general consensus is the following:
Most of us have not truly realised how much we needed the services connected to our cottage until we really needed them. With many of us having backgrounds that may have included trauma, abuse, violence, survival, neglect, social rejection, imprisonment, homelessness and abandonment, something as simple as having a space to charge our phone can mean the world to us.
As I've witnessed this in both myself and others, common behaviours that can result from what I've just mentioned, can result in overwhelm, anxiety, anger, intense emotions and a huge element of the fight or flight response can be both prevalent and frustrating. Therefore, having a more healthy reliance may at first appear difficult but with time; we trust.
Meaning, having a space where doctors, Centrelink, housing services, counsellors, social workers, supportive groups and having committed staff refer us to the spaces they are trained to know we need, is absolutely priceless. Whether these facts are openly admitted or not, so many of us have been able to get on our feet via being helped up off the street.
I for one get huge anxiety going to mainstream doctors, public Centrelink offices or just rocking up to other services but when they come to us, three things happen:
- They already know the general situation we are all in as one way or another, we all need help.
- They are more inclined and do go the extra mile to make it easier for us.
- We feel more at ease as we can become familiar with the space, the staff, the relationships and by knowing we are all there together, our lives are made much easier.
When already struggling from whatever means of survival, substance misuse or by whatever means many of us escape our deep wounds we find hard to talk about, listening to us and lessening the load we have in mainstream society is so much more vital than many of us may say. I speak on behalf of many of the service users that I've had real chats with so I can vouch for them, me, us and our cottage that these services are essential for helping those individuals experiencing homelessness.
How have visiting services like Centrelink, Homeless Health Outreach Team (HHOT), My Momentum, GP, hairdresser, podiatrist, and others at Fletcher Street Cottage impacted you and other service users?
In regards to Centrelink, I have been forced to exhaust all personal help and funding from Vinnies as the help from mainstream Centrelink has been non-existent. Vinnies (another service referred to by our cottage) has been my saving grace and my essential lifeline. They have paid my rent since September 2022 which will be exhausted this coming August when I can finally qualify for Centrelink (receiving Centrelink payments is no way an ambition of mine but it may be essential).
As I'm originally from the UK, and due to the fact I have to be an Australian resident for four years to receive Centrelink, and regardless of my desperation, homelessness or needs, having no government support has almost pushed me over the edge of no hope. The false hope that has been based on vague knowledge or flippant responses from mainstream Centrelink has been prevalent and left me in critical financial situations time and time again.
However, and despite his own professional limits within this government-based capacity (the Centrelink representative who comes into our cottage each week to meet with us one to one) has acknowledged my personal struggles. His help has not only been vital, but there is a strong chance I would not have been able to make it this far without him stretching his own limited capabilities within Centrelink.
In my eyes, mainstream Centrelink is a very black and white means of survival and just like so many services out there, that survival can really depend on the person you get on the other end and that you are allocated to. Therefore, and on behalf of all services that come into Fletcher Street Cottage, and unlike the mainstream experience I have had time and time again, they see us.
Thus, and again, unlike the mainstream experiences I've had (which for the purposes of this story I'll limit to Centrelink) I have never come across any person or service that has not been helpful. In the mainstream however, I have certainly come across many dead ends, inflexibility and moments that have left me wanting to give up altogether.
My main point here is that us service users do generally have unique needs in comparison to the mainstream. Therefore, and so often, we do not require, nor can many of us handle being treated like a number or be presumed as being able to accept so much paperwork, requests, requirements and deadlines.
Just like so many mainstream GPs, hairdressers, podiatrists and others, when these legends actually come to us, they are already helping us way more than even they may realise. Just the fact that these essential and health-based services go out of their way to support those that need them (us) says it all.
As a minor example, I get hugely anxious with all the small talk that can be a huge part of a public hairdresser, and as for the price - trying to get a haircut under $40 these days is not easy. Some of the best chats I've had have been with Tegan (our Fletcher Street Cottage hairdresser) as she really gets it. She gets us. She supports us. She sees us and she has been a great supporter of both our cottage and 'Off The Street On Our Feet' too.
I'm not taking away anything from the mainstream and the true hearts of people but to me, and most likely on behalf of others, services outside of Fletcher Street Cottage can be triggering, difficult and often mentally challenging. Perhaps other people in mainstream society can hide their problems but at times, that might not be so easy for many of us already on the streets, at risk of being, or in situations not exactly considered comfortable in comparison to mainstream society.
As the founder and leader of the running team "Off The Street On Our Feet," can you describe what it means to you personally and to other team members to be part of this initiative? How has it impacted your lives and contributed to your overall wellbeing and sense of community?
What ‘Off The Street On Our Feet’ has for done me personally is that it has changed my life from being an unknown venture of mundane recovery to having a clear vision of unknown discovery. A clear purpose, goal and initiative where I not only realise how many limitations I can continue to break through, but holding myself accountable for the trajectory in regards to the momentum of ‘Off The Street On Our Feet’ has been incredibly transformative. At times, I still struggle to grasp so many aspects of this project but just like running, when the wall is hit, the smashing down of that same wall, and even despite it seeming impossible; is always inevitable.
By holding onto the core meaning of this vision turned reality, I can then ensure that ‘Off The Street On Our Feet’ is successful for not just me but for our homeless hub, our community, and mainly; our team. Seeing the breakthroughs in others has been an astounding part of our very small journey thus far. This unpaved venture as we are still very much unknown to our next step has most certainly opened our eyes to how meaningful this project can become. Whether we have been a direct or a supportive part of ‘Off The Street On Our Feet’ the same spark that was once laid dormant is coming alive.
For myself, being humbled into a selfless role as the team leader has enabled me to see my own worth. In addition to that, and through taking actions, making decisions and believing in many, who have often been dismissed in their lives, I finally get to witness the true meaning of why I am leading our team. Opposed to the temporary comfort of unactioned words, the spark in the hearts that I see, and the unearthing of self-pride that I bear witness to, allows me to stand tall and move through it all. Regardless of my mind begging, pleading and convincing me to give it all up and that I’m not capable of such a role, I commit to the true meaning of the vision: wholehearted transformation. To counteract such an opposing mind, I can explain it like this:
When I see someone who through rejection, ridicule, separation and much more, does not clearly see their own worth, I begin to delve deeper. By delving deeper, I do not mean to sound like some kind of councillor. What I mean is that I hone in on what they don’t see. Therefore, my meaning in all of this is to see their spark, do all I can to not let it go out, and regardless of the counter-transference of rejection, excuses or the unhealthily addictive mindsets I face, a huge part of my role is to pierce through it all. To me, focussing intently on that spark within all of us to ensure that it doesn’t go out, with consistency, patience, tact and acceptance, I know for a fact that the outcome shall be inevitable. That outcome is a flaming fire that cannot be extinguished, nor can it do anything but grow bigger, stronger and illuminate brightly. Then, and one flame by another, this flaming fire has the potential to spark other flames and to ignite the entire world; our world.
This isn’t just about running either, as running is just the main steps to nurturing a lost soul into a disciplined and clearer minded one. In all honesty and as little as many of us truly know this yet, but ‘Off The Street On Our Feet’ is currently a planted seed. Whether we are uniting together, running together, socialising together or going to try and do new things we have not done before, and together; we are bonding as a team. This isn’t the usual socialising through drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, theft, vandalism or basically doing whatever we can to either survive, suppress boredom or escape from the same old mundane; something way bigger than our limits is beginning to radiate our flames.
Having positive role models around us such as running coaches, community support workers, successful business owners and even a local doctor is impacting all of our lives. Even if we can’t see it we can’t deny it and even if our lives are not transforming overnight:
True transformation that lasts and is not short lived takes time, is not forced and the door remains wide open.
The improvement in wellbeing has been undeniable as has the uplifting conversations, challenges and realisations of individuals that they can make something of themselves. Seeing just one of our runners not drinking alcohol amidst a group of rough sleepers that are drinking whilst he has his 21km half marathon finisher’s medal around his neck is doing way more for the group of drinkers than not. No matter where we are from or what mindset we are in, we all hold the capacity to know we have more potential than we give ourselves credit for.
Just in the last few weeks we have had one team member go from permanently sleeping rough to having four days a week in luxury paid accommodation via a new employment opportunity. Another runner openly admitted to us that he wanted to make a public declaration by turning away from all his past acts that were unlawful and he then physically made that declaration to two of our team. Another rough sleeping runner made a gentlemen’s agreement with myself including a handshake, to commit to training for and then running an entire 42km. Not just this but we are about to make a three way gentleman's pact to run the entire 42km marathon in less than a week as a trio of Brothers and that during the battles of such a run, we shall hold a sturdy intention to be a team of one and not a trio of three.
These are just a few examples from the last few weeks. Life-giving, real and meaningful things truly are happening all around us and the more effort we make, the more we breakthrough. When we prove ourselves to ourselves, we set a ripple out to the community. We all have hearts, we all love a comeback story and we all admire those who are willing to go against the grain, so here we are, and we have barely even started yet!
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