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Down and Out in Perth -- soup kitchensI.T. Brecelic Salem-News.com
Keeping a roof over your head is becoming increasingly difficult down under.
(PERTH, Australia) - Australia is the Promised Land. Boat people make the perilous trip from Indonesia to Christmas Island. But just how lucky is this country down under?
I’ve been going to soup kitchens for the past 10 days. The two meals a day has kept me off the streets. The Salvation Army provides food at midday, then a group called Manna, provide the evening meal at 5 pm. I once relied on a food van in Sydney called Just Enough Faith. The founder, a Tibetan, and restaurant owner, only served the food that he would eat. According to the founder of Manna, Beth Lowe, he was originally from WA and started out in selling cars and running restaurants. “We use to work together,” she said; and I’m presuming in helping homeless people.
Yesterday Susan said she needs a volunteer. She is the coordinator of two groups who prepare meals for Thursday and Friday, and are a motley group of people from all walks of life who form the Manna organization.
The Street Chaplin, Garfield, who is Sue’s husband, asked the Asian back packers tonight to go to the end of the line. "We don't encourage back packers," explains Sue. "We can pick them out. The streeties get a bit upset when they can't go back for seconds." Sue was happy telling me all about her charity and how it works, and I was likewise happy eating her food fore free. A symbiotic relationship at its best.
Sue explains that Manna derives from when the Israelis wondered in the desert for 40 years. Something about a loaf of bread feeding a tribe. I've read these Biblical ferry tales before but never believed them before, and still don't. According to Manna's website, "Each year we serve over 53,000 hot dinners to Perth’s disadvantaged.” And I’ve had at least five of them.
As Sue was telling me this biblical story, the park spot lights came on. "God has arrived" could well have been the statement. Sue says she takes care of the two shifts. "We really must be vigilant against those abusing our soup kitchen." She says that people donate money so that homeless can be fed. "So we don't want to encourage back packers. If the donors knew that the food wasn't going to the homeless, they'd be very disappointed." And I’m wondering if she is talking about me. She's really drilling the point home. I had told her that I was staying at a back packer down the road.
I had met Beth earlier, when I went up to her van to get a sleeping bag. Linden, an Engineer from South Africa, recently found himself in hard times -- but not for long, he has a job lined up in the mines near Esperance -- said he wanted one of those sleeping bags guy in line was holding. We both wanted one too, for when we were really on the streets!
“Are you on the streets?" Beth asks. Yes, of course, I said, without blinking an eye. We couldn't afford to pay for a meal or buy stuff at Coles, so I guess that puts us in the homeless category. Beth started Manna with her husband 15 years ago. "It was 15 years from May 18," says John, " that we started Manna." I must have been there for that meal on their 15 anniversary.
"He's just got out of hospital,' said the homeless guy behind me. "He's had a hernia operation. " And Beth had support around her swollen ankles. Beth said she use to work for Jeff, the founder of Just Enough Faith food van. "He's from WA, and started out selling cars and running restaurants. He is Tibetan."
I told her I use to eat at his mobile food van at Hyde Park in Sydney. I'm interviewing her, and a homeless Aborigine comes up to her. "I'm homeless again," he whispers. She clasps his hand gently with her two hands, and says, "I'm so sorry."
Before the meal was served, the street Chaplin told the homeless group that he just got back from Indonesia with his wife. "We were thinking about you. There were people who prepared your meal who were thinking about you."
We just watched him. I was fidgeting. He finished the prayer with "Amen". Sue later told me that said that she was thinking about us when she went to Indonesia. These people are really sincere, and love what they do. It makes them feel good.
After I had eaten a hearty meal, one of the volunteers asked me if I could go around with a bag and collect the rubbish. "It was lovely, you were all smiles," says Sue, when I went up to her to introduce myself. Little gestures go a long way in the charitable industry.
While chatting with Garfield, an aborigine lady, mid forties, who was carrying a big pink pack on her back, poked my arse with a rolled up newspaper. "Is she a friend of yours?" asked the Street Chaplin.
"I've never met her in my life." Then the aborigine poked me again, and the Chaplin laughed. But I never told the Chaplin that when I collected the rubbish, this lady had asked how big my cock was, and whether I wanted her to suck it off. “It’s tiny, “ I told her, and thee other homeless people who were eating under the tree just laughed.
Another day, another meal
"Excuse me," says a drunk Aborigine in the back of the line who asking Ed from Finland for a cigarette. He hands one over. "Jesus loves you!" Jesus only loves cigarettes, I say to the guy in front of me. He asks where I'm from.
"You aren't a back packer are you?" Nope, I'm Australian. "Look at Elvis." I'm looking but can't find him. "He's behind you." A well-dressed man was standing behind with side burns and sunglasses. I saw him later buy some booze the the bottle shop.
Another man, who walks his puppy in a pram, doesn't seem quite right, but he is really in need of food. Today he only gave his dog a few pieces of meat; he's hungry himself. "That's all you getting you mutt."
A lady from Manchester tells me, as we wait in line for the Salvos to dish up our food that the dog was trying to bight her bag. "I've got food stuff in there," she says in a hush. "You can't tell the dog off, because the owner might go crazy."
She didn't like the food the other day. "Some yellow stuff in a triangle." She was talking about the meat balls. "It had me going to the toilet all night." I know what she means; I'm feeling a bit sick about the meal I got from Salvos today. But Jack, from Scotland, who serves up the midday meal, put a smile on her face, when he welcomed her with, "Hello Manchester!"
Another big Australian guy from Broome, who got his meal, asks me why I am homeless. I ask him why he is homeless. I'm not here to justify myself. He continues. "I do roofing. Got ripped off 1.2 million dollars. " I told him to enjoy his meal and moved on. I didn't want to listen to his garbage.
Garfield stands to the side of the line today. It is cold. The tables are set up. One table is serving soup, and another is handing out containers of food. "John is thinking of you. We are all thinking of you. He is writing a newsletter about you." Later I ask John if I can read the newsletter. "We don't have a newsletter," he says. Well if you do, I will help you out with writing it, I offer. "Take a picture of them,” says a homeless guy standing in the line behind me. So I take a picture of husband and wife team, and founder of Manna, Beth and John Lowe. I spoke to Sue while in line. She wouldn't hand me a container of spaghetti. "Take the food man, "said Linden. I really thought I wasn't going to be fed tonight. "No, she just forgot to give you one, " Lyndon said later. Sue, who coordinates two teams, was run off her feet today. She did look tired. Her husband Garfield said I was a travel agent after I had sent a text to Sue saying I was available to work, and added my travel blog link. I had to tell Garfield that I wrote about human condition stories like prostitution. "There's a lot of that," he said. But I didn't have the heart to explain that I was talking about my recent trip to Indonesia and the hookers I met there. Just as well I didn't send him that link.
But I did tell him that I would write up a story here on the soup kitchen. So here you have it. Thanks Salvos and Manna, I've never eaten so well. And I've met so many interesting characters. One night there was an big jolly lady playing her tiny guitar, and another islander drumming out beats on his suit case. It was a religious song, "We got the whole world, in our hands," sang the lady. And the staff came up and enjoyed the music. It was a cold night, and getting dark, but everyone got along just fine.
So don't be scared of the homeless, they are just humans like you with basic wants- food and shelter. And don't forget to say a big hello, and offer them a spare cigarette. I smoke any brand!
I.T. Brecelic has been writing about South East Asia for the past 2 decades. "I am attracted to the extreme side of life where humanity functions at its best. My features have been carried in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Courier Mail, Ralph, and publications in Europe, syndicated by Planet Syndication."
The intersection between I.T. Brecelic and Salem-News.com came about due to an interest in the history of Vietnam War Photojournalists Sean Flynn, Dana Stone and others, who remain missing to this day. This is a subject that other Salem-News.com writers like News Editor Tim King have a lot of respect for. Learn more about I.T. Brecelic's work, visit: http://vanishingflynn.
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